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-October 16, 2016
Pray always without becoming weary!

For over thirty years, a mother prayed that her son would become Christian. Many of us would have given up. It seemed that his life was directed at just having fun, running with the wrong crowd. Finally, at the age of 33, he asked to be baptized. He was ordained a priest at the age of 36, and became a bishop at the age of 41. We know him as St. Augustine, and his mother as St. Monica. She never gave up on the power of prayer, that eventually God would hear and respond to her pleading.

Monica was persistent in her prayer like the widow was with the dishonest judge. That widow kept coming to the judge asking for justice. She had been wronged. Possibly someone had taken advantage of her situation and had cheated her out of what little she owned. The judge, we are told, had no fear of even God and no respect for anyone. But because of the widow's persistence, the judge gives in to her request. If that self-serving, corrupt judge is finally willing to deliver justice for the widow, will not our loving and merciful God listen to our pleading and provide whatever we need? The widow was victorious because she did not give up. It took persistence and patience. For St. Monica, it took over thirty years of prayer. "It is necessary to pray always without becoming weary," we are told.

Praying always is necessary! Necessary, but Not Easy! How many of us are always praying? My guess is not many. If you do, please tell me how you manage to do it. It is not easy. Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, a 17th Century Carmelite monk, would pray while doing the dishes at the monastery. He talked about what he called practicing the presence of God (also the title of a book containing his wisdom) by recalling that God is indeed always present and the source of everything good, and thanking God for every good event during the day. We can practice praying always by incorporating little moments of prayer throughout the day. How long does it take to pray grace before a meal? Can I make it a habit to say a short prayer every time I wash my hands, thanking God for the gift of water, and the gift of the Blood of Christ that washes away our sins? Can I pray "God bless you" when someone sneezes a true blessing instead of just saying it without any real meaning. We can, and should go to God with our needs. We have a loving and merciful God who wants to provide us with everything we need. Like the widow and St. Monica, sometimes we need to practice, or maybe ask for, patience; and, we may sometimes need to ask if our desires are in line with God's desires and plans. It is not always easy. We can be tempted to give up.

We can grow weary. We can be tempted to question if God is even listening. But we are not alone in our struggle. We can and should help one another with encouragement. That is one of the reasons we gather every Sunday as a community of faith.

Consider the story in today's first reading from the book of Exodus. The Israelites are engaged in battle with the Amalekites. Moses in on top of a hill watching the battle with his hands raised in prayer. When he gets tired and lowers his arms, the Amalekites start to win. So Aaron and Hur find a large rock for Moses to sit on and each of them takes one of his arms to support him. We are engaged in a spiritual battle. Like Moses, when get to tired or discouraged to pray we begin to lose ground. That is when we most need someone to support us in prayer, to help us lift up our hands. Like Joshua, on the battlefield below Moses, we are not alone in this battle. Joshua had an army and so do we. Just look around you. You are surrounded by spiritual warriors. We are in this battle together.

When we gather here for Mass, we join in the most powerful prayer there is. We come together to worship our loving, merciful God who provides everything that is good. We come to encourage one another and be encouraged, to pray together for one another and for the world. We come to hear the Word of God proclaimed in Scripture. We come to be nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, and thus strengthened for spiritual battle…to Pray Always Without Becoming Weary!

Deacon Bob

-September 25, 2016 - Fr. Dan's last week as pastor
Fabulously rich-that's what Katharine Drexel was. Her father Francis was a Philadelphia investment banker, and when he died in 1885, he left his fortune of $15 million to his 27-year-old daughter and her two sisters. Raised in a very religious family that actively sought to alleviate the suffering of the poor, she took an interest in social justice from her teenage years. This included a particular concern for the plight of Native Americans, as well as African Americans. This incredibly wealth young woman, with a life of unimaginable luxury laid before her and numerous marriage proposals, turned her back on these prospects to enter religious life, causing shockwaves among Philadelphia's upper crust.

Within a few years she established the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, whose mission was to serve Native Americans and African Americans, financed by her inheritance. Sr. Katharine Drexel died in 1955 and was canonized 45 years later, on account of her love of the eucharist, her courage and initiative in addressing social inequality among minorities, her belief in quality education for all and efforts to achieve it, and her selfless service-including the donation of her inheritance-for the victims of injustice.

Contrast this amazing woman's story with that of the rich man from today's gospel passage. Though Lazarus, the very image of poverty, lay at his door, this rich man chose not to respond. Indifference characterized him, as well as dedication to treating himself to all the pleasures his wealth allowed him.

I see before my eyes an array of people who also are rich, even though none here has a bulging bank account. Rich in what way? We are rich in time, time that we can put at the disposal of those around us whose lives are marked by much suffering. We are rich in mercy, that responds to the cries of the Lazaruses of our day. Also abundantly present in us is the pull of justice, which presses us to work for a better society and world. By putting these riches to good use we point to Jesus, for whom we have a burning love that we yearn to share with everyone by bearing witness to him.

Katharine Drexel's bank account wasn't really what made her rich. No, it was the intangibles I just mentioned, which God has granted us, too. By putting them to good use, we pursue righteousness and give honor to God. As a result, we will lay hold of eternal life, to which we were called at baptism.

Pursuing this righteousness means that we not succumb to the complacency, the indifference, which the prophet Amos condemns in our first reading. Those living in this manner, while professing to love and serve God, proved themselves to be hypocrites, with no place at the banquet in heaven that awaits the righteous. In our time we are as at risk of this as the people Amos denounces.

Therefore, our challenge is to go the way of someone like Katharine Drexel rather than the rich man of our gospel verses. We all can name individuals who have borne witness to us by living as St. Katharine did. The other day I was visiting a man who resides in the Alzheimer's unit of a local nursing home. While on my way I crossed paths with a woman I know who has, in a sense, adopted another resident unfortunate enough to receive few callers. She is the face of mercy for her aged friend, as she imitates Jesus.

At the West Side Catholic Center I made the acquaintance of a volunteer named Roger. Retired now, he could be spending his time in any number of pursuits, but he chooses to come here regularly and shares his cheery nature with people living on the margins who flock to this oasis of love. What a generous act of mercy, to give of himself in this way, as Jesus would, and to humbly open himself to what the poor can give to him.

Fifteen years ago I fell in with Carol, who energetically works for change in her corner of the world. By e-mail she urges her members of Congress to take a stand for the common good. She joined forces with other members of her parish at a rally for peace, as Congress debated going to war in Iraq in 2003. She has taken part in boycotting companies whose practices harm workers and the earth, all in the name of Jesus.

Though we might doubt our reservoir of time, mercy, and the pull of justice, in actuality each of us is immensely disposed towards such loving deeds. It's a matter of choice, the choice to put on Christ.

The rich man in our gospel passage chose to turn a blind eye to Lazarus. He saw the man lying there but opted against tending to his needs. He proved himself to be indifferent, and it is such indifference that Pope Francis has strongly challenged as a malady that has infected many in our world. Listen to his words from The Face of Mercy, the document that announced the Year of Mercy which we have been observing since December:

"In this Holy Year, we look forward to the experience of opening our hearts to those living on the outermost fringes of society: fringes which modern society itself creates. How many uncertain and painful situations there are in the world today! How many are the wounds borne by the flesh of those who have no voice because their cry is muffled and drowned out by the indifference of the rich! During this Jubilee, the Church will be called even more to heal these wounds, to assuage them with the oil of consolation, to bind them with mercy and cure them with solidarity and vigilant care. Let us not fall into humiliating indifference or a monotonous routine that prevents us from discovering what is new! Let us ward off destructive cynicism! Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, and let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help! May we reach out to them and support them so they can feel the warmth of our presence, our friendship, and our fraternity! May their cry become our own, and together may we break down the barriers of indifference that too often reign supreme and mask our hypocrisy and egoism!"

For the thirsty who crave hope and joy, we who have gathered in this place serve as smalls pools of salvation. Hope and joy are key ingredients in the Christian medicine chest that Jesus equipped us with at baptism. Thanks to this sacrament, each of us is a doctor of mercy, with the sacred duty of answering those appealing to us for love. By tending to their wounds, we imitate the Suffering Servant who sacrificed himself on the cross.

In this we share with them the Good News of salvation, which, as these words in Eucharist Prayer for Reconciliation II tell us, is the story of Jesus: "He himself is the Word that brings salvation, the hand you extend to sinners, the way by which your peace is offered to us." As his disciples this is our purpose, too. If we are true to this sacred work, pursuing "righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness", as St. Paul exhorts Timothy to do in our second reading, then we can look forward to salvation.

You and I are rich, rich in the intangibles that matter. With the aid of eucharist, upon which it will soon be our joy to feast, let us put them to good use and thus serve as an example of Christ-like love that stands as an unmovable barrier against indifference.

-September 18, 2016
Am I squandering the gifts I have been given or am I putting them to good use?

I trust that none of us is guilty of dishonest business practices, cheating anyone out of what we owe them, or squandering our employer's property. Or, does Father need to be available for Confession after Mass?

The prophet Amos warns those who "trample upon the needy" and "destroy the poor." They "buy the lowly for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals." In contrast, we praise God in today's psalm because he "raises up the lowly from the dust" and "lifts up the poor" from the "dunghill." It is not likely that anyone here buys and sells the needy and poor, and probably none of us is able to end poverty. But Amos reminds us that "The Lord will never forget a thing you have done!" No matter how insignificant an action may seem, God will not forget what you have done. "Do small things with great love!"

Amos is writing about people who intentionally cheat and "trample" the poor and needy for their own financial profit. The steward in today's parable, however, has not been dishonest. All we know for certain is that he has been "squandering" his master's property. He has been wasting money, maybe not stealing it, maybe not benefitting from it. He is losing his job because of his poor stewardship. What he does to save himself is show mercy to those who owed his master money. He showed them mercy. Now, consider this. If he was reducing the amount of money that was actually owed to his master, would the master not have been angry with him? Is it not more likely that the steward was cancelling the amount that would have been his to keep, his commission? If that is the case, then the steward is using what he considered rightfully his to "win friends" for himself. And so Jesus says "Make friends for yourselves" so that "you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings."

We are meant to be good stewards of all the gifts we have been given. We are not all wealthy philanthropists able to feed thousands each day; but, we can each share what little we have. None of us is going to single-handedly save our planet; but, we can recycle our paper instead of killing another tree. We are not all inspiring evangelists; but, we can show our neighbors how to live as Christ for one another. We can all "do small things with great love."

St. Paul tells us that we each have gifts for the building up of the Body. We are stewards of those gifts, which are meant to be shared. Ask yourself what gifts you have that should be shared. How are you sharing them? How should you be sharing them? Being a good steward does not mean that you do not take care of your own needs; but, one does not satisfy one's desires at the expense of others. What I have is meant to be shared with those in need.

We are stewards of our money, our possessions, and our time. How much and with whom we share is a topic for prayer. God gives us everything good that we have. We are merely stewards of God's gifts, and will be judged by the quality of our stewardship.

There is a story about St. Mother Theresa in which she has been handing out food to the poor. When she has finished there is a little food left that she decides to keep for her own meal that evening. Then a priest comes to her and says "I have a poor family here who need something to eat. Do you have anything that I can give them?" She hands him the little that she has and tells him that it is not much but it is all that is left. Realizing that she has probably not eaten yet he asks "Mother, if this is the last of the food, what will you eat." She simply answers, "Take it. God will take care of me."

Until I have that kind of trust in God, and that kind of selflessness, I will continue to ask if I am squandering the gifts I have been given, or am I putting those gifts to good use?

Am I squandering the gifts I have been given or am I putting them to good use?

Deacon Bob

-September 11, 2016
Which of you is a dog person? Which of you is a cat person? I suppose that preference would dictate your response if the magician in the comic strip The Wizard of Id were to appear and tell you he'd decided to transform you into one or the other, leaving the choice to you.

What if the options were between being a goat or a sheep? Setting aside the qualities of these two animals, biblically speaking the sheep is the better choice. After all, in chapter 25 of Matthew, Jesus places the sheep on his right and says they will inherit the kingdom of God because of their mercy towards the least one. The goats inherit eternal punishment because they neglected the least ones.

What if the options were to be a sinner who repents or to be someone who is righteous? Today's passage from Luke suggests that being a repentant sinner is far preferable.

I've never met anyone who isn't a sinner, have you? Last Sunday the Church canonized a great woman, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was a sinner. Today St. Paul, one of the towering figures in the Church's earliest days, says in his first Letter to Timothy that he is the foremost of sinners.

There are about 7,405,000,000 sinners around, which is the population of the world. Among them is an untold number of righteous persons. That isn't something for any of them to take pride in. I say this because in our gospel reading Jesus defines a righteous person as one who has no need of repentance. To have no need to repent is to say you aren't a sinner, which is self-delusional.

The crowd that Jesus is speaking to includes Pharisees and scribes who have opposed him at every turn, and they represent the 99 righteous people who have no need of repentance. Repeatedly in this gospel these religious leaders reveal their attitude that they have their act together. They are abhorred by sinners and have nothing to do with them, viewing them as despised by God. They apparently are of the mind that they are in good with God because of their effort to obey every law in the Torah, the law that came to the people through Moses. Those who don't ought to be obliterated by God, and that Jesus eats with them proves that he is not a friend of God.

We cannot earn entry into heaven. Though some of the Pharisees and scribes found in the gospel thought otherwise, God owes us nothing. We can't put God in our debt; rather, we always are in his debt, due to the mercy he never fails to show us. That mercy is the point of the parable of the Prodigal Son.

The wrong this younger son inflicted on father was unforgivable. By demanding his share of his father's estate, he was saying he wished his father were dead, since it's only at death that inherited property is divided. What he did was scandalous and offended everyone in the village where he and his family lived. This action not only wounded his father deeply but also shamed him in the eyes of his village, which saw him as a failure for having reared such a son.

Unforgivable though the son's offense was, the father forgave him. How clear this is, in that we're told he caught sight of his son while he was still a long way off. This paints a picture of this merciful parent directing his eyes day after day towards the distance, hoping this would be the moment when his lost son would reappear.

The father doesn't wait for his son to take the initiative, and this speaks to us of God's approach to us, his wayward children. God goes looking for us, like the father of the parable, the shepherd searching for his lost sheep, and the woman looking high and low for her missing coin. God's mercy isn't dependent on what we do.

That isn't to say we have no part to play, however. The younger son's suffering during the famine, after having wasted his inheritance, leads him to consider what he had done. It pushes him towards the start of repentance, incomplete though it is. God pours his mercy on us, but that mercy can't penetrate our hearts if we have failed to recognize the harm our sins inflict on ourselves and others and been moved to repent.

With such repentance we allow God's mercy to flood into us, and then God can guide us back towards the life that sin puts at grave risk. That's when the table is set and the feasting begins, for we are taken back by the community in which we are nourished and which provides us with companions for the journey to eternal life.

To number among the sinners who repent: That's where we should want to be. Sinners we already are; ongoing repentance is the question. Where we definitely don't want to be is among the righteous, for they are blind to their sinful state, which makes repentance impossible and raises a shield that is impervious to divine mercy.

The older son of the parable has sided with those who think of themselves as righteous. He looks upon his brother as beyond redemption and upon whom his father's mercy is wasted. He wants nothing to do with his brother and cannot see that the two of them share a common bond in their sinfulness. In his view, on account of his sticking with his father, the old man owes him.

That's like saying that because we try to live in a way that pleases God, he owes us. Jesus warns us against this state of mind, which at times we're probably all guilty of. Like the older brother in his contempt for the younger, we see someone who has fallen way short of the mark and perhaps think that person certainly has no place in heaven.

Yet, we who too are sinners could so easily could slip into the same state we condemn so strongly. Mother Teresa couldn't earn her way into heaven, despite all the good she did. Neither could Paul, and we can't, either.

As far as the older brother is concerned, his father's mercy is wrong-headed and wasted. Let us be grateful that God "wastes" his mercy on us and by repenting of our sins allow that mercy to take effect. Then, having been drenched in such mercy, may we not fail to serve as instruments of divine mercy for our sisters and brothers, to help them on the road to repentance.

-September 4, 2016
Our reading from Luke's gospel makes it very clear that Jesus demands an incredible amount of sacrifice from his followers. We have to place him ahead of our families, our material possessions, and even our own lives. Boundless are the examples of people who did so.

Paul endured numerous imprisonments as a Christian, and during one of them he wrote his Letter to Philemon, from which today's second reading came. He certainly didn't see much of his family, and as an itinerant preacher his lifestyle would have been meager. In the end he, like Jesus, suffered execution at the hands of the Romans.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor in Nazi Germany and spoke out against Hitler. He did some church work in England and the U.S., and though he could have remained, he chose to return to Germany, for he felt called to "share the trials of this time with my people." The Nazis arrested him and imprisoned him in Buchenwald Concentration Camp and other prisons. They executed him just a few days before the Allies liberated his prison. He took seriously Jesus' words, "Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple."

Anjezë Bojaxhiu (A' ne za Bo ja zu') left home in 1928 at the age of 18 to join the Sisters of Loreto in Ireland and took the name of Sr. Teresa. Sent to India to teach, she never saw her family again. Twenty-two years after becoming a nun she formed the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta. Today she will be canonized.

Peter left his fishing boat behind and for extended periods of time was away from his wife (and probably children), parents, in-laws, brothers and sisters, and other extended family. Basically he was part of a new family that consisted of Jesus, the other Apostles, and the larger circle of Jesus' disciples, including Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. He did without the income that fishing would have brought him.

He endured the same opposition as Jesus, as the Pharisees grew ever more antagonistic. In Jerusalem the chief priests and scribes plotted against Jesus, and when they arrested him and turned him over to the Romans, Peter's life also was on the line, prompting him to flee. The Acts of the Apostles tells us about his experiences of imprisonment, and Church tradition says he was martyred through crucifixion in Rome.

Mother Teresa left home and family the same way Peter and Paul did. Some still do, like Fr. Joe Callahan at Our Lady of Lourdes, six miles from here. He served in our diocesan mission in El Salvador for about 10 years. There are lay people who answer a similar call, including Maryknoll Missioner Liz Mach who works with homeless children in Tanzania. Another Maryknoller, Greg Fischer, ministers to migrants and immigrants in Brazil. Melissa and Peter Blythe, along with their 8- and 5-year-old children, left Long Island for El Salvador, where they run programs for children and teens in a rural village.

However, most of us who count ourselves as Jesus' followers aren't called follow this pattern. Similarly, most Christians in Peter and Paul's time lived out their Christian call in their towns and villages. Even at home, however, to follow Jesus remains a radical choice, for he must take priority over family considerations, financial security, and even matters of life and death.

Concerning family, Jesus says we're to hate our parents, spouse, children and siblings. "Hate" isn't to be understood in the sense of detesting them but in the sense of preferring Jesus to them. I've known some married couples in which one spouse is Catholic and the other isn't and the Catholicism of the one is a source of conflict. The non-Catholic spouse is antagonistic towards the faith, pressuring the Catholic spouse not to practice it. Or the non-Catholic spouse is without a faith altogether, and his or her indifference is a temptation to the Catholic to abandon the faith.

This compares to the Church in Peter's day. It wasn't unusual that someone in a Jewish family would become Christian and then be rejected by other family members. Family was what a 1st century Jew trusted in and relied on; it was the source of his or her identity. Therefore, to lose it because of one's new-found faith would have been extremely difficult. But Jesus come first.

Renouncing all our possessions might be required of us. So Mother Teresa did, like those Maryknoll Missioners I mentioned who left behind very comfortable lives to answer the call to serve in the Third World. More often, though, it is more a question of recognizing what we truly need and don't need. We do without the extra things so that we can respond to the suffering of people who lack the basics. This should be part of the Christian way of life. Imagine all the good we 2 billion Christians around the world could do to alleviate want if we shared in this manner.

Beyond this, Jesus as the center of our lives doesn't always square with our society's values. I know of a young man who long had dreamed of going to West Point and becoming an Army officer. When his application to the Academy was accepted he was thrilled. However, within two months of arriving, he realized that staying wasn't an option. It became very clear to him that killing would violate his conscience. His choice to leave was not well received by many of his fellow cadets, and the weeks it took to be released were ones of isolation.

Even more difficult is coming to the decision to leave your job because you're being asked to do things that you consider unethical. How hard this is when you have a family to support, bills to pay, and landing a position elsewhere proves challenging. For a follower of Jesus, however, to make him secondary to any other consideration isn't an option.

Paul, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Mother Teresa's lives remind us that following Jesus is a very costly business. But the reward we are granted is tremendous and worth any price. And this involves more than just ourselves individually. Yes, each of us longs to join in the heavenly banquet, but even more important is that by our lives we bear witness to the love of God made manifest in Jesus, so that others embrace the faith.

Placing Jesus ahead of our families, our material possessions, and even our own lives is a very tall order. How well do we do this? When I look at my track record as a Christian, I wonder whether my discipleship is a pale imitation of what it ought to be. I know that very often I fall way short of the mark in giving myself completely to Jesus. Selfishness wins out.

And so we call to mind God's mercy. Peter didn't always do all that well, and Jesus forgave him. Others among the renowned martyrs of the early Church at first ran away out of fear and only at a later point were able to accept death for the faith. When on our journey of faith we take the wrong path, we trust in God to respond to our plea that he get us back on the right track.

With the power that is ours through eucharist, penance, and prayer, our goal is to hold nothing back no matter what the cost, as we follow him who is our reason to live.

-August 28, 2016
You are driving in your car on the interstate when another car swerves in front of you. In your effort to avoid hitting the vehicle, you are struck from behind and sent spinning into the berm, where your car flips onto its top and catches fire. You are pinned behind the steering wheel, smoke is choking you, and you can feel intense heat behind you. In three minutes you will be dead. Suddenly someone is braving the flames and pulling at your door. Hands grab you, and a voice urges you to stay calm. Suddenly you have been freed from the wreckage and pulled to safety, thanks to a motorist who put his life on the line for you.

How do you repay this person who saved your life? Doing so would be awfully hard, for the debt is huge. Similarly, how do you and I repay God for so loving the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life?

Our reading from Luke's gospel speaks about repayment. We are to do good to those who can't repay us, Jesus says. Nevertheless, maybe someone who has benefited from our kindness wants to show her gratitude, even if all she can manage is just a small gesture. Our position in relation to God is something like this. Everything we have is God's gift to us, and the greatest gift is salvation.

Though we can't make recompense for this, we can and must express our gratitude. This we do by worshiping and praising God as a community and as individuals. This we do by our loving service to our neighbor. This we do by our financial sacrifices, giving not from what's left over at the end of the month but purposely setting money aside, even though that means going without something I want to buy or some activity that appeals to me.

We make such choices and sacrifices because our relationship with God calls for this. God's unlimited love for us has provided us with an incredible bounty of good things, and we give back in order to show our gratitude. God bestows a treasury of individual talents and material riches not to benefit the recipient alone but for them to be shared.

In the spiritual realm, we repay God by taking part in the Mass each Sunday. Our interest must extend beyond our personal relationship with God and include concern for our neighbors. Therefore, if we know people who have no connection to church, let's invite them to join us at Mass. This will help them, and our parish will benefit, too, considering all the empty places we see at Mass.

We want St. Therese to flourish. For this to happen, we must encourage the unchurched in our neighborhood and those who once belonged but have grown distant to join us. In our faith we possess something very precious. God yearns for every person to know and love him, and what a favor we do for someone when we acquaint him or her with God. I invite you to get involved in our home-visitation program, which is one way that we are trying to build up our parish.

Each of us has a role to play in building up St. Therese, and the way we take action depends on our gifts. I hope that every member of this faith community will pray for it, for our prayers pack a lot of power. And let us not forget to appeal to St. Therese to intercede for us, recalling her words, "When I die, I will send down a shower of roses from the heavens. I will spend my heaven by doing good on earth."

Many of our parishioners are golden agers who aren't quite as spry as once upon a time. However, your capacity for prayer is sharper than ever. Besides praying at home, I hope you will consider joining us at daily Mass. The 6:30 p.m. Mass every Monday offers the chance to pray the rosary with others at 6:10, not to mention the Miraculous Medal Novena, which takes place right before Mass starts. In addition, eucharistic adoration, which we hold for an hour after the 8:30 a.m. each First Friday, provides an excellent opportunity to nourish your soul.

Besides expressing our gratitude to God through prayer, we say thank you by means of loving service to our neighbor. Loneliness is a heavy burden for many nursing homes residents, and the parish is planning a group visit to Jennings in October to spend a few hours with the elderly there. I hope you will sign up for this.

A large segment of our parishioners is up there in years, including many who are shut-ins. We are fortunate to have an enthusiastic cadre of eucharistic ministers who take them the sacrament and spend time with them. More such ministers are needed, and perhaps God is asking you to consider this. Our youth ministry program would benefit from more adult volunteers, as would the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Sr. DeAnne is short a few teachers for our Parish School of Religion, and, with classes starting in two weeks, your participation would help her greatly. The Oktoberfest could use more willing hands, too.

Opportunities for service extend far beyond our parish, of course. Have you ever considered foster-parenting? Tutors are needed for children-and adults, as well-who struggle with reading or math. Organizations like the West Side Catholic Center, Malachi House, and the Cosgrove Center always welcome volunteers.

In a moment I will speak about the parish's financial troubles, but I want to point out that many organizations are at work to address the suffering in our area, our country, and the world. For example, United Way and Catholic Relief Services depend on our generosity. Three weeks ago Sally Roddy, an Irish missionary, spoke to us about her work in Africa and Asia. When we give away our money to help our sisters and brothers who rely on the work of these groups and individuals, we are being attentive to the words of our Savior, who said, "Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me."

Finally, regarding our parish's financial picture, the budget report that is in today's bulletin indicates that our situation in the current fiscal year is challenging. The finance council and I foresee declining revenues and higher expenses in comparison to last year. The parish would have run a deficit last year except that, in anticipation of the closing of John Paul II Academy, there no longer was a need to continue paying the school subsidy. The money remaining from the subsidies paid over the previous years will be split between our parish and SS. Peter & Paul. Each will receive about $100,000.

On account of that sum, our anticipated deficit of $117,625 for the current fiscal year will be cut to $17,625. However, in the years to follow we will bear the full brunt of the school building's costs, which we estimate at $40,000 per year. My hope is to sell or lease the building, and the effort to do so has begun, but it quite possibly will not happen quickly. There has been a long-term decline in our revenues, and in the budget we calculate that our income will fall by $30,000 this year.

At the same time, spending on big-ticket projects could exceed $48,000. Of that amount, $22,000 is needed for repairs to the parking lots. Exterior painting around the church's lower windows will cost $7,300, while the bill to replace the sidewalk on East 104th Street and repair the retaining wall there will come to $5,400. My letter in the bulletin lists the other projects and their costs.

I am proposing a fund-raising campaign to offset the cost of these capital expenses, and I hope you will support it. Our target is $50,000, which would allow us to preserve our financial reserves for the day when a new air conditioning system will be needed for the church, or a new roof. In the pews are red envelopes, and I am asking that you take one home with you. Though many of you are on a tight budget, I hope you will give what you can, in the weeks to come placing your envelope in the collection basket with your usual offering.

I want to thank you for the many ways you support St. Therese Parish. It is just one example of your gratitude to God for his myriad blessings to you.

I will conclude with a brief mention about the uncertainties of the year ahead. As you know, Fr. John Schneider has been appointed to serve as pastor for both Ss. Peter & Paul and St. Therese parishes. Please give him all your support and cooperation. Many unknowns lie before St. Therese in this year of transition. In the face of all of them, we can be confident that God walks with us, and so there is nothing to fear. Everyone will need to be patient and flexible. I urge you to turn unfailingly to God in prayer and be open to the necessary changes to come.

-August 21, 2016
In our passage today from Luke's gospel, Jesus says that the gate leading to salvation is narrow. What does he mean?

Consider the door into a passenger jetliner. It lets in a single person at a time because it is so narrow, and there's just one. Before you go through it your ticket is examined, and you've already endured a lot of other checkpoints along the way. So there's no way for a big crowd to swarm a jetliner in order to get aboard. Also, you have to arrive on time, otherwise you'll find the door has been closed.

There's just one door into heaven, and that door is Jesus. While a huge, wide entry way allows many people to walk through with ease at the same time, with entrance into the heavenly banquet it's a different story. Great effort is needed. Also, putting off until the last moment your effort to get in won't work, because by that time you might find it locked.

Strength is needed to enter that narrow door in that the Christian life is demanding. Turning the other cheek, loving your enemy, being chaste, practicing patience, refraining from passing judgment, living simply so you have more to give away, forgiving those who do you harm: Such a path is quite challenging. Quite often we fall way short, due to our sinfulness.

Though there's just a single gate and it's narrow, many people have passed through it and have been given a place at the banquet table of heaven. Maybe we would be surprised at the folks we'd find there, as well as those whose place has been given away.

People from the north, south, east, and west will be present, Jesus says. That connects with our reading from Isaiah, which declares that God will gather nations of every language to see his glory. Salvation isn't just for the people of Israel, for God intends to gather all people to himself, the prophet proclaims. The Israelites often weren't open to this. They had a habit of considering God to be theirs alone and shunned the Gentiles-the non-Jews.

In Jesus' book all are welcome, and that must be our line, too: saints and sinners, Muslims and Jews, Syrian refugees and Mexican migrant workers, prison inmates and welfare queens, our enemies and our friends. These are the people coming from the north and south, east and west. We are to invite them to join us in church, where we strive to answer their needs, most especially the need for God's love and mercy.

To do this, we have to practice great humility. How so? Because we perhaps view a lot of these people as unworthy and must grasp that we are just as unworthy. This is where heeding Jesus' words, "I don't know where you are from, depart from me, all you evildoers," comes in. These evildoers included the people who asked him why he ate with tax collectors and other sinners, who thought ill of him for allowing a woman known as a sinner to bathe his feet with her tears, and who credited themselves for fasting and paying tithes even as they disdained a tax collector praying at an adjacent spot in the temple. The ones displaying such a judgmental attitude were seen as upstanding people of faith, yet, lacking in humility, they failed to recognize their own sinfulness and reform their lives.

We here today at this Mass seek to be faithful to Jesus' teachings. As we do, let us remember that he came to call sinners, which requires us to reach out to sinners, too. If we truly know Jesus, this is a crucial way we show it. Otherwise, though we might think he knows us, we could find ourselves numbered among those rejected as evildoers who wail and grind their teeth after being cast out from the heavenly banquet they thought would include them.

Strengthened by eucharist, may we expend the great effort needed to enter through heaven's narrow gate and do so today not tomorrow, bringing along with us as many of our fellow sinners as we can.

-August 14, 2016
Christ came to set the earth on fire, we are called to keep it burning.

There is something attractive about a live flame. Most people find themselves drawn to the light of a campfire or candle in the dark, and to the warmth of a campfire or fireplace when it is cold. For a "romantic evening" a couple might enjoy a candle-light dinner. Many of us have candles in our houses to give us some light in case of a power failure; maybe you have only one or two to carry from room to room, or maybe enough scattered around the house to light the entire neighborhood. (Is there such a thing as too many candles?)

We light candles here in the church during our liturgy. At one time, candles or oil lamps were needed to light our church buildings. Today the candles serve as symbols of the light of Christ, who is the Light of the World. As part of our baptism ceremony we are given a candle, lighted from the Paschal Candle, symbolic of the light of Christ that is given to us; and we are instructed to keep that flame burning. That is not always an easy task.

Jesus warns us that carrying His flame will sometimes cause division, even within families. Standing up for what you believe in, speaking prophetic words, can lead to difficulties. Jeremiah found himself sinking in mud at the bottom of a pit because he told the people what God had to say, not what they wanted to hear. The princes, Jeremiah's countrymen, who should have been the ones supporting him, instead are the ones who threw him into the pit; and, his rescuer was not a Jew. God's help can come in unexpected ways.

Our letter to the Hebrews reminds us that "we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses" (the Communion of Saints) who have gone before us, endured what we suffer; and now pray with and for us, and encourage us to continue running the race "with our eyes fixed on Jesus." That "cloud of witnesses" includes saints both living and dead. It includes some who encourage us by their heroic lives, and those people who encourage us simply with a smile.

The fire that Jesus casts on the earth is not just a candle flame or campfire, it is an all-consuming fire meant to divide those who accept Him from those who do not. It is the fire that will separate the sheep from the goats. It is the purifying fire that tests the "genuineness of our faith, more precious than gold …tested by fire." (I Peter 1:7) It is like a forest fire that consumes everything in its path. However, after a fire consumes a forest, new life begins to grow from the floor of the burnt forest. Christ has set the earth on fire. If we allow that fire to cleanse us, then His new life grows within us. We become "a new creation" in Christ.

That fire can sometimes begin to die down. Even if we allow it to almost go out completely, merely stirring the embers can often get it to flame up again. Firefighters will not leave the scene of a fire until they are certain that the embers are cold for fear that a spark might re-ignite the fire. Just so, the flame entrusted to us at baptism can diminish. Events in our life can leave us feeling like Jeremiah, up to our necks in mud at the bottom of a pit. So we come together here to stir the embers and rekindle the fire.

We gather together surrounded by that "crowd of witnesses" to encourage one another, and to be nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ himself so that we have the strength to continue our journey, carrying His flame for the world to see, setting the world on fire by the example of our Christian love, and speaking the truth that is Christ, the Word of God.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful;
and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Lord, send forth your Spirit and they shall be created;
and You will renew the face of the earth.

May the Fire of Christ continue to burn in your heart,
Deacon Bob

-August 7, 2016
A hacker infiltrates your computer and leaves an infection behind, really messing things up for you. If only you'd been more vigilant by putting in better safeguards. I'm sure a good number of us here have faced that scenario.

That's something of the situation Jesus presents in our reading today from Luke's gospel. A burglar breaks into somebody's house and robs it, and how the owner wishes he'd been more watchful.

Jesus is telling us that he's broken into our world. With his coming among us as a man, he stole into the world like a thief, taking humanity by surprise. By his life and death he taught us how to serve his Father. Sinful man preferred the old ways and disposed of this troublesome interloper by means of a cross. But God short-circuited that through his Son's resurrection.

Jesus returned to his Father's side, and now we look for his return in glory, and for this we are to be vigilant. All the while, it is critical to recognize that he already dwells among us, that he reigns now in our world, and that he looks to us to give him allegiance today.

Immersed in the life God has given us, we face such daily challenges as making a living, paying bills, and dealing with issues in the family. As we respond to them, God calls on us to be guided by our Christian values. It's in our ever-day lives that we give proof that we walk with Jesus.

That great 1952 film High Noon is a lesson in the difficult choices we must make. Marshal Will Kane, played by Gary Cooper, faces four hardened killers in his small western town of Hadleyville, one of whom he had put in prison five years before. Everywhere he goes to seek help in the coming gunfight, he is refused: at the saloon and the church, by his friends and neighbors. All are afraid, and so they leave him at the mercy of the men determined to kill him.

The Church has been waiting a long time for the Lord's return in glory. Waiting brings the risk of dozing off, and that's something we must resist. That dozing off might take the form of giving a lot more attention to the attractions of this life than to the authentic life Jesus modeled for us.

We wait for the Lord's return in glory, but we must never forget that he already moves among us. His reign isn't just a future event but is active right now. Jesus approaches each of us, as Marshal Will Kane approached the people of Hadleyville. None would help Kane.

We don't have the luxury of siding with Jesus at some future point, for he calls on us to decide for him today, to infect the world by the practice of a bold love and mercy that takes the world by storm.

-July 31, 2016
While out and about, a talented, ambitious twenty-something arranged to see an old friend of his father's. This man, who knew a lot about life, asked his guest about his plans. The young man said he intended to study law. "And then?" He answered, "I'll find a position with a law firm and get ahead in the world." "And then?" "Well, I imagine that eventually I'll have earned enough that I will comfortably retire and enjoy myself." "And then?" Smiling, the young remarked, "In the end we all die, right?" After a moment's silence, the older man asked, for the last time, "And then?"

May we never lose sight of that final "and then", which is a disaster that can befall a person ever so gradually. If we allow that to happen, then we have turned our backs on the true life that Jesus alone provides. We remain mindful of the ultimate "and then" by recognizing that what we do today has great bearing on our life after we leave this world.

It seems the rich man in the parable became blind to this. He showed concern only for "me, me, me" as he considers what to do about "my harvest, my barns, my grain, and myself". Jesus, by the way he lived and the way he died, proved that he was a man for others. The same is to be true of us, his followers, but in this the rich man got failing marks. He was blind to the truth that everything he thought of as his own really belonged to God.

Whatever God has given us in the way of material blessings is not to be hoarded. That's what the rich man did, and this failed to put him in a good position with God. Rather than amassing as much wealth as we can to insure us against some unfortunate event that might befall us, we are to trust God, as Jesus did. As St. Paul makes clear in his second Letter to the Corinthians, we do best by making use of what we need and then giving generously of the rest. Anyone who does that accrues great wealth in heaven.

If only the rich man had given to the poor what he didn't need. That would have readied him for his final "and then". With the strength God grants us by means of prayer and the sacraments, in particular eucharist and reconciliation, let us chart such a course for ourselves, whether our means are paltry or more significant. In so doing, we prove that we are men and women for others, in imitation of our Savior. Consequently, the arrival of our final "and then" will cause us no worry.

-July 24, 2016
A few days ago in Phoenix a puppy went down a storm drain, prompting a man and woman to go to the rescue. After following it for several miles, the two themselves needed to be rescued, having gotten themselves stuck. They screamed and screamed for help, until finally a bicyclist passing heard them and called 911. Firefighters had to cut open the drain in order to reach them. The dog's fate is unknown.

Have you ever gotten stuck? Of course; that happens to everybody. On a regular basis we find ourselves facing problems too big for us to handle. That's when we start screaming, like the two people trapped in that storm drain. If that hadn't screamed, and if no one had heard their screams, they would have died.

Today's reading from Luke presents us with the Our Father, which is a bit different from Matthew's version, the one the Church uses. Jesus teaches his disciples to pray as he does: to God who is a father to us, providing for us; whose holiness enfolds us through his power and mercy; whose reign we beseech God to extend to all creation; from whom we need bread to sustain us today as well as bread for eternal life; in whose forgiveness we trust; and who alone can preserve us from abandoning God on account of Satan's wily temptations.

We pray to God in this way because he alone can free us from the drains in which we get stuck. God is the all-powerful one.

Getting stuck in drains happens when, like Adam and Eve, we misuse the power God has given us. Tempted by Satan, they sought to make themselves God's equal. Thanks to the amazing brain God has given us, we can accomplish things that can be very good. But we so easily can forget that the power we humans wield isn't inherently ours but finds its source in God.

Human ingenuity has explored amazing scientific frontiers, such as space travel and noninvasive laser surgery, drones and i-phones. Often as not, however, we use these in ways that harm rather than help us. As Satan seduced Adam and Eve to the extent they lost sight of God, so does the Evil One seduce us, Adam and Eve's offspring. We forget God; we forget that apart from him all we accomplish by our power ends up turning to dust.

In forgetting, we crawl down a storm drain and get stuck. Such times prompt us to realize how terribly limited we are, and the reality of our powerlessness dawns upon us. Then we remember that God is the powerful one. And at such moments we see very clearly that the power we humans exercise, when divorced from God, unfailingly is a wrench we throw into the works.

To our great good fortune, such wrenches never can thwart God's power, which always finds a way around them. The ultimate sign of this is that death itself could not confound God, who crowned his Son's crucifixion and burial with resurrection from the dead.

The Our Father teaches us that power belongs to God not us. It reminds us that we pray because it keeps us close to God, apart from whom we get stuck. We scream and scream and scream to God, "Save us! Get us out of this pit!" And God always hears us and comes to our rescue. So we recall, every time we come together to share in eucharist.

-July 17, 2016
We just listened to five verses from Luke's gospel that tell us that something was worrying Martha. Preying on her mind was her sense that her sister Mary was treating her unfairly by not helping with the duties of hospitality.

"Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things," Jesus remarks to her.

Replace her name with your own and hear Jesus address the same observation to you.

Many of us here right now probably can identify very readily with Martha. For some, the worry involves the possibility you'll have to leave your beloved home move into assisted living. On the other hand, I suppose more than one parent among us feels anxious about their adult son or daughter who has finished school but still can't find a job in their chosen field. Others worry about whether they'll ever meet the right girl or guy. The anxiety for a wide array of us might be the troubles so apparent in our country and world: gun violence, the painful divide between people who are black and those who are white, terrorism, and the economic problems that dog so many workers.

Jesus' guidance for Martha was to listen. Mary had wisely chosen to take the part of listening to Jesus' teaching and instruction. If we do the same, we will be given the answer to our worries and anxieties. After all, they are much the same as those of Jesus' day and any other era.

God has a way of leading us to the place we need to find. "My peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid." Thus Jesus speaks to his disciples in John's gospel at the Last Supper, and he adds that he will send them the Holy Spirit, who will be with them always guide them to all truth.

To hear that their master soon will die seems like a very good reason for them to be troubled and afraid, but Jesus will have none of that. He always insists that we trust in God's power.

Early in Luke's gospel Jesus says, "Do not be afraid," in response to Peter, who is overwhelmed by a sense of how unworthy he is to associate with this holy man. In Mark, Jesus speaks these words to a man who, having asked Jesus to heal his young daughter, has just learned she is dead: "Fear is useless. What is needed is trust." In Matthew, when Joseph is so anxious about whether or not to divorce Mary, who is found to be pregnant, God's words to him are, "Do not be afraid."

These are the very same divine words spoken to Mary when in Luke's gospel she feels greatly troubled at learning God has chosen her to bear his Son. And also in Luke, regarding worries about sufficient food and drink and clothing, Jesus responds, "Do not worry. Your Father knows that you need them. Seek his kingdom, and these other things will be given you besides."

Therefore, let us turn to Scripture, in which Jesus speaks to us, and listen attentively to him, as Mary does in today's gospel passage while sitting at his feet. If we allow, he quiets our anxieties and relieves our fears. And in eucharist he provides the sustenance we need more than anything else: his Body and Blood, that enable us to carry on sharing with others the Good News of salvation.

-July 10, 2016
I want to always number among the one-third that doesn't go to the opposite side.

Did you notice that of the three people who see the half-dead man, two move to the opposite side of the road and walk on by?

So in this parable only one of the three participants isn't an opposite-side person but instead elects to act on what he sees. And what does he see? A neighbor; and more to the point, a neighbor in need.

I know that Jesus isn't telling us, his audience, that two out of three of us fail to recognize a neighbor in someone else, especially someone in need. Hopefully the vast majority of us here believe that there is no one who isn't our neighbor. And hopefully the vast majority of us prove ourselves true neighbors by the compassion and mercy we show to those we encounter each day, imitating God's unfailing compassion and mercy for us.

Sadly, though, there always will be people who go to the opposite side of the road-who are of the mind that not everyone is a neighbor. That apparently is the attitude of the lawyer, based on his question to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" And tragically, there probably will be times when you and I, sinners that we are, number among the opposite-siders. For all too easily do we human beings descend into indifference or take that well-trodden road of hating another who isn't "one of us."

Of the three who encounter the injured man, two would have been eagerly counted as neighbors by the lawyer. But these two, the priest and the Levite, show no compassion and mercy. Their seeming indifference isn't explained. Only the Samaritan sees the helpless man as a neighbor and goes to his aid.

The lawyer and any Jew listening to this parable, and they all would have been Jews, would have been aghast at Jesus' depiction of these three characters. In their minds, a priest and a Levite always should be the good guys. On the other hand, Samaritans were the objects of great derision and hatred by Jews, for many reasons-feelings that were reciprocated by the Samaritans. Yet this Samaritan shows brotherly love for the injured man, who likely was a Jew, considering the setting of the parable.

Those who should have been the good guys decided that fellow lying over there wasn't their neighbor and moved to the opposite side. Who was it that did what was necessary to inherit eternal life, by loving God and neighbor? The one that nobody in the parable, including the injured man, and the people listening to Jesus would've seen as a neighbor.

May you, I, and every other Christian never number among the opposite-side persons but instead prove by our compassion and mercy that we are among the percentage, whether one in three or four out of five, that recognizes there isn't anyone who isn't a neighbor to us.

Recent heart-rending events in our nation testify that evil, ever the formidable force, can blind anyone and prevent them from seeing another person as neighbor. Killings of innocent black men by white police officers and the killings of white policemen by sniper fire demonstrate this.

I attended a march today/yesterday in downtown Cleveland held to take a stand against such blindness to the suffering of folks who are our neighbors and come from south of the border. The hundreds who participated were marching for just immigration laws. Some of them shared tearful stories about loved ones who have been torn from their families on account of laws that desperately need to be reformed-laws that punish undocumented workers who fled to the U.S. to escape persecution, violence, and corruption. Sadly, all too many of us would go to the opposite side of the street to pass them by, willfully deaf to Christ's demand that we see them as our neighbors.

There are other examples of opposite-side behavior: Former convicts whom no one will hire; babies killed in the womb; a man dressed in Arabic attire and enduring arrest in Avon, OH, after a clerk's false accusation that he was pledging allegiance to the terrorist organization ISIS; and a group of teenage boys walking down the street and looked upon with fear and suspicion simply because they are black.

Who among this assortment of individuals is not our neighbor? May we recognize that not a person exists on this planet who isn't "one of us," for all of us are children of God and made in his image. That makes God black, white, immigrant, Central American, Arab, European, undocumented worker, female, male, ex-con, police officer, and a member of every other category.

Thus, no one is beyond the range of our compassion and mercy. As our reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians points out, Jesus made peace by the blood of his cross so that all things might be reconciled through him.

Shortly we will participate in this peace-making by means of eucharist. Through the grace granted us by sharing in Jesus' Body and Blood, may we grow in our appreciation of our oneness with every person, including those who are vilified, like the Samaritan of the parable. And may that grace strengthen us to respond to everyone whom, like the victim in the parable, our world is all too willing to leave for dead.

-July 3, 2016
You and I have a mission. When Jesus sent the seventy-two disciples out, it was us that he was sending on a mission. That number seventy-two is the number of descendants of Noah that went out to populate the earth; so, that number seventy-two represents the population of the earth. You and I are part of that seventy-two.

Jesus sends the seventy-two out to go ahead of him, to prepare the places he is going for his arrival. They are to travel light, because there is an urgency in the message. The Kingdom of God is at hand. It is not coming some day in the future, it is not just close, it is at hand. When something is close at hand, it means you can put you hands on it quickly. Taken literally, something is at hand when you can touch it. The Kingdom of God is close enough to touch. It is imminent! There is no time to waste. Recall how last week's Gospel told that people who wanted to follow Jesus do not have time to bury their dead parents, say goodbye to their family, take care of their affairs. If you are going to plow the field, keep your eyes fixed straight ahead.

Those seventy-two disciples are to travel light, because carrying too much baggage will slow them down. They must not become attached to their money, their food, or their possessions. Depend on God to provide what they will need on their travels. They are sent in pairs, not alone. We go together, to support one another, to remind one another why we are here. Together for encouragement, sometimes to commiserate; but, always to pray with and for one another.

It is a dangerous mission, although it is a mission of peace. The disciples are to enter every house with the greeting "Peace to this household;" but some people will not reciprocate. Then leave that house, Jesus says. There is no mention of taking back the blessing of peace, no calling down of fire to destroy that house, simply leave that place alone and move on. But we are sheep among wolves. For some there is physical danger, even martyrdom, even today. For most of us the dangers are financial, psychological, emotional, and spiritual. We are called to live a lifestyle that is out of sync with a secular society that rewards the powerful more than the peaceful.

But we are given power by Jesus over the "serpents and scorpions" that bite and sting with venom that attempts to poison our souls. In the name of Jesus and in His Cross, "even the demons are subject to us." But if we rejoice that we are given such power, then we are giving in to the venom of pride. That we can conquer our demons and tread on serpents and scorpions is a sign that the Kingdom of God is at hand. There can be no boasting that I have any power aside from that which is given to me for the completion of my mission-to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is at hand.

As St. Paul says, (Gal.6:14) "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." The Cross is the sign of our salvation. The Cross is the sign of our faith. That is why we sign ourselves with the Cross when we sit down to pray. That is why we sign ourselves with the Cross when we gather for worship. Our Sign of the Cross marks us as ones called and sent by Jesus. It identifies me as one of the seventy-two sent to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is at hand.

How do we accomplish our mission? We show and speak about the Kingdom of God.

We do not have to all be preachers; but, if our lives reflect our faith in Christ, people will notice. As Peter tells us, we should be ready to explain to them the reason for our hope (1 Peter 3:15). Living the Kingdom can be as simple as being kind, courteous, joyful. But there is more, that fits with the mission of the seventy-two to heal. Remember that healing comes in many forms other than curing physical illness or injury. We have a handy reference list, called the Works of Mercy:

What have I done today/this week to help feed the hungry

or to give drink to the thirsty?
What have I done recently to help clothe the naked or shelter the homeless?
Have I visited the sick or imprisoned? Does imprisonment need to be physical?
Have I assisted in burying the dead,
or comforted someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one?
Have I corrected a sinner, or instructed someone ignorant of our faith?
Have I counseled or encouraged someone who was doubtful?
Have I comforted someone who was sorrowful?
Have I been patient when wronged, and forgiven injuries done to me?
Have I spent time in prayer for others, both living and dead?
These actions, these Works of Mercy, show that the Kingdom of God is close at hand. These works show that we are people sent by Jesus on a mission. This is our faith and love in action.
Our mission is to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is close at hand.

Dcn. Bob

-June 26, 2016

-June 19, 2016

-June 12, 2016
"[God,] you were with me, and I was not with you." So St. Augustine admits in his autobiographical work, Confessions. Augustine, who died in 430, was a great bishop in the early Church, and his writings have exercised an incredible influence. He came to the faith in his 30s, following a life that left him filled with much regret and shame. He was well aware of the power of sin.

When will you and I get to the point where we can say, "I've finally gotten this sin beat?" Never, as St. Augustine himself knew well. And as much as we'd like to gain such a victory, in truth it's a great gift that this won't happen. I say this because it's a lesson to us that God alone can conquer our sinfulness, which God has done through his Son's death and resurrection.

Therefore, every time our defenses fail and we succumb to temptation, the necessary response is that we admit to God our brokenness and give God deep thanks for his mercy. And let there be no doubt that God indeed grants mercy to us. That's what Jesus has done for the sinful woman in our passage from Luke, just as the Lord forgave King David for his terrible sin in engineering Uriah's death after taking the man's wife, Bathsheba, for himself.

In his Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul sings God's praises as he calls to mind that Jesus has loved him and given himself up for him. Our entire lives should be lived such that we express our thanks, too.

The love the forgiven woman lavishes on Jesus is her response to Jesus' mercy towards her. Apparently, she encountered Jesus before the episode explored in today's reading and he forgave her sins. Her tears of joy that cleanse his feet, which she then dries with her hair, kisses, and bathes with ointment, paint a picture of tremendous gratitude. Our gratitude to God should be just as great.

Let us show this by our missionary work. No, we don't carry the message of Jesus to foreign lands the way Paul did, but every day we run across people who don't know Jesus and who thus don't know about his mercy. We introduce them to the Lord when we treat them kindly.

Kindness often is a rare commodity, for in our hurry-up world, we forget to take the time for it. Our kindness prompts people to wonder why we behave in such a way. Eventually, we might be asked about our kindly ways, and that's an opportunity to share our own experience of God's love and mercy.

Of course, when it comes to kindness, our practice of it often isn't what it should be. I am aware of the many times when I'm impatient and unkind, and then I feel ashamed. However, such occasions also are filled with grace, for they are another reminder that I can succeed not by my own determination but only with God's help. My failure prompts me to confess to God once again that I'm a sinner in need of his mercy. And then my heart can soar, for I know that mercy is mine, as assured to me by my Savior's death and resurrection.

If we kid ourselves by giving short shrift to our sinfulness, we are like Simon the Pharisee in our gospel reading. He thinks he has his act together, oblivious to the truth that he is no different from the woman he so contemptuously dismisses as a sinner. When we become blind to our status as sinners, we forget how much we owe God for his mercy, and we cease to love.

"You were with me, and I was not with you," St. Augustine confesses to God in his autobiography. The greatest day of this man's life was when he opened his heart to God's mercy. I am confident that this saint would urge us to make greater use of the sacrament of God's mercy, reconciliation. It is an invaluable tool for confessing to God our brokenness and our need for God and for receiving the grace to open our hearts to him more and more. If you haven't availed yourself of this sacrament recently, I encourage you to seek out this healing salve

We are sinners, and how absolutely essential it is that we hold onto our realization of this painful truth. We do so not to beat ourselves over the head about it but to take the next step of recalling that God's forgiveness trumps our sinfulness. What comes next then is our response to that mercy: the love we extend to others, as the woman does in today's gospel.

The bottom line is that all love is founded on God. The very face of divine love is Jesus, and our faces more and more come to resemble his through eucharist. Having celebrated God's love and mercy here at Mass, we march forth from this place to share that love and mercy with everyone we meet.

-June 5, 2016
I was recently reminded that "good health is a temporary condition." But how many people would say that they are not in need of healing? I would suggest that we are all in need of healing, some more that others, some physical, others emotional or psychological. Still others are in need of spiritual healing. All of us are in need of healing as long as we are living apart from God. The only complete healing comes when we return to our heavenly home, in complete communion with God.

We hear stories about healing, and about the dead being raised to life. Elijah prays over the widow's son in Zarephath. He prays three times, and then God answers Elijah's prayer, restoring life to the son. Jesus stops a funeral procession in Nain, and returns a dead young man to his widowed mother. Both widows in extreme need. Both had lost their husband, and now their only son.

The widow of Zarephath had shown hospitality to Elijah. There was a drought. Elijah had been sent by God to Zarephath and to the widow. She gave him water and food. He prayed and her supply of grain and oil did not run out. Now her son is dying. She wants to know why. After living a good life, treating this prophet kindly, doing only good, she is being punished. Why is Elijah's god doing this to me? Elijah asks God for a healing; and, after crying out three times, God answers Elijah's prayers.

Jesus is walking into the town of Nain. He sees a funeral procession and stops it. The crowd that is following him must be wondering what he is up to. No body asked him to intervene; he has taken it upon himself to stop the procession and pray for the dead young man. Jesus has been moved with compassion at the sight of a woman who has lost both her husband and now her young son. Jesus touches the dead boy and tells him to get up. No one was expecting that.

Both of these women are grieving the loss of a child. They are left with no one to support them. Neither of them is expecting God to intervene on their behalf. But God does act for them. Through Elijah's intercession, God brings the son of the widow of Zarephath back to life. And Jesus, the Son of God, brings the son of the widow of Nain back. Both sons are returned to their mothers because God is merciful, because God does care about their wellbeing. We know very little about either of these women. Neither of them has a name. Neither of them has a history, other than that they are widows. The widow of Zarephath has extended hospitality to Elijah, but we know little else about her. We know even less about the widow of Nain. They are, for us, quite literally nobody; so why should God care about them. Yet, God does care! Who am I that God should care about me? But He does! There is a healing, sometimes accompanied by a cure.

God does hear our prayers, and God does respond; not always in the way we expect, but in the way God knows is best. Sometimes, like for the widow of Nain, God acts directly, without anyone's intercession. God simply acts. Are our eyes open to see this activity in our lives? Do we realize that simply waking up in the morning requires God's willing that we do so? Sometimes, like for the widow of Zarephath, God hears someone else's prayer for us; as when we intercede for one another, or in the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. Always there is an encounter with God. The widow of Zarephath encountered God through the prophet Elijah. The widow of Nain encountered Jesus himself. Saul encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, and his spiritual blindness was healed, through a personal encounter with Jesus. We find our healing, not by being obedient to rules and regulations, but by our personal relationship with God. Then, we can begin living our baptismal call to be prophets who announce God's message of Mercy.

The widow of Zarephath could have held onto her son and refused to let Elijah pray for him; and her son would have stayed dead. The funeral procession in Nain could have refused to stop for Jesus and pushed him away; and the widow would have buried her son that day. Saul (Paul) could have ignored God's call, labeling it an illusion; and continued persecuting Christians. We can remain oblivious to God's activity in our lives, or we can ask God to open our eyes, restore life to our spirits, and accept God's healing so that we can take on our baptismal role as God's prophets for today's world that is so in need of healing.

We are called to accept, and to offer God's infinite Mercy.

Dcn. Bob

-May 29, 2016
Two years ago I attended the 40-year reunion of my high school graduating class. I've attended most of my class reunions over the years, but each time I go I run into someone whom I've not seen in decades. So we remember past shenanigans, talk about our teachers from way back when, and catch up on developments in our lives.

You know from your own reunions, whether they concern school, your military unit, your family, or some other body of people, that for a fleeting moment the recollections take you back to days long past. Then you return to the present.

On this Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus, we remember what Jesus did at the Last Supper, as we do every Sunday at Mass. We gather in obedience to his command, "Do this in Remembrance of me."

Stirring up memories at my class reunion was a pleasant experience, but when I went home that evening it didn't affect me much. Remembering Jesus' sacrifice is a whole different ball game, however, because it is a different sort of remembering.

From the first days of the Church, Christians experienced the presence of the Lord in a special way when they came together for Eucharist. Jesus said that whenever his disciples gather In his name, he is present with them. We continue to put our faith in this today. As we participate in the sacred actions at Mass, we aren't simply remembering that Jesus died and was raised, we are present with him at his cross, we behold his empty tomb, and we cling to his risen body as Mary Magdalene did.

Today's solemnity emphasizes just how special eucharist is, for it makes real those salvific events as we remember them. This solemnity also reminds us that in eating Jesus' Body and drinking his Blood, the fruits of unity and peace are granted to us. He unites us to himself through this sacrament, and that unity with him makes for unity with each other. In the Eucharistic prayer today, we will appeal to God in these words: "Humbly we pray that, partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, we may be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit." And after the Our Father our prayer is: "Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles, Peace I leave you, my peace I give you, look not on our sins but on the Faith of your Church, and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will." Then we exchange a sign of peace with one another.

Let us put to work the peace and unity Jesus bestows upon us in eucharist. In receiving Eucharist we become Eucharist, we become Jesus, and we must share him. "Feed them," Jesus directs his disciples in our reading from Luke. In our reading from First Corinthians, Paul tells us that Jesus shared himself with his followers by means of his Body and Blood. Once we have shared in Eucharist, it is our obligation to feed and share with our sisters and brothers, to give of ourselves in imitation of Jesus. Eucharist must not remain just within these walls.

Our weekly remembrance of Jesus' death and resurrection enables us to live more simply so that we have more to put at the disposal of the needy. By remembering, we are empowered to be Christ in the life of a neglected child. To obey Jesus' command that we remember equips us to see as a child of God someone who has injured us and to forgive that person. By such a way of life, we prepare ourselves to delight for all eternity in the divine life that we taste in a small way in Eucharist.

Soon we will share in this greatest of meals, we thank God for this wondrous food each time we gather for Mass, but we do so in a special way on this Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. With our spiritual hunger satisfied, may we go forth from here to meet the needs of others, confident that Jesus empowers us in this mission.

-May 22, 2016
What we humans, and in fact all of creation, need more than anything else is an unbreakable unity. The Holy Trinity whom we celebrate today is the greatest model of such unity in the indivisible community of love formed by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: one God in three persons. No walls separate the three divine persons.

Human beings need each other; without community and bonds of love we die. Consider the movie Cast Away, which came out in 2000. When a company cargo plane in which the Tom Hanks character Chuck Noland, a FedEx executive, is flying goes down in the South Pacific, only he makes it ashore. For four years he survives alone on a remote South Pacific island. His only companion is a Wilson volleyball, on which he draws a face, using blood from his gashed hand.

As the years pass, Noland often speaks to Wilson and argues energetically to his silent friend. Perhaps Noland would not have been able to handle the loneliness without Wilson. Finally, Noland resolves that unless he fashions a life raft, he will die on this island. With debris that has drifted onto the island, he builds a raft and manages to overcome the powerful surf that had proved too much for his earlier escape attempt.

Days later a storm almost destroys the raft, and soon thereafter Wilson spills into the sea and drifts away. Noland barely restrains himself from jumping in to go after the volleyball, recognizing at the last moment that doing so would spell his own death, for he is too weak to swim far. As Wilson, his friend of four years, floats away, Noland weeps uncontrollably. The raft continues drifting, and finally a passing ship spots it and Noland is rescued.

We humans need community, for it is the milieu in which love can flourish, and to love is our purpose. The absence of community was Noland's greatest burden. We crave to be one with others, for this is how God designed us. Considering that God created us in his own image, this makes great sense.

The Trinity forms an intimate relationship, as our reading from John's gospel suggests. We hear Jesus say, "Everything that the Father has is mine", which reiterates the point made repeatedly in this gospel that Jesus and the Father are one. When he returns to the Father following his death and resurrection, Jesus will send the Holy Spirit, who will declare to the disciples what is from Jesus and the Father. St. Paul tells us in his Letter to the Romans that the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Perhaps, then, we can explain the Trinity in this way: It is the Father who loves, the who Son is the love that pours forth from the Father, and the Holy Spirit who is the sharing of that love with us. Far more than a head-scratching mystery, the Trinity is the love that has generated all life. The Catholic Catechism says God's purpose for us is our entry into the perfect unity of the Trinity.

That unity and the community of love that is the Trinity must be translated into this world, for that is why Jesus was born as one like us. Through baptism God has given us this work.

Perfect unity admits no walls. The greatest tragedy in the human story is our failure to overcome the barriers that are the bitter fruit of human brokenness. We humans, in our sinfulness, have proven ourselves very adept at erecting such walls, which we think keep us safe. The Church itself is cursed with many. First we must open our eyes to them and dismantle them by loving.

Jesus loved the Roman centurion and the Syro-Phoenician woman, both of them Gentiles, and he demonstrated this by the healings he performed for them. These people were very different from Jesus, but he didn't allow this to stop him. By imitating him, we tear down walls. As our walls crumble within the Church, we are better able to pursue a transformation of the world, so that it too is free of walls.

As Jesus loved the Roman centurion, we must love people whose skin color differs from ours. As Jesus loved the Syro-Phoenician woman, we must love those mired in poverty. The perfect unity of the Trinity teaches us this. As he loved Nicodemus, a member of the priestly class which largely detested him, we must love those individuals whom we are inclined to judge or reject or ridicule or ignore. Every one of us probably can identify such people in our lives, people against whom we raise walls.

Walls abound in our society and world, and they make it possible for rich nations to exploit poor ones and for two countries to wage war against one another and for persons of one faith to vilify those of a different faith. While you and I don't have the power to reverse such woes, we certainly can refuse to blindly accept the notion that this is the course the world inevitably will take. We can dialogue with those on the other side of the walls and press our government to work for peace and justice.

Isolation eventually would have destroyed Chuck Noland on that island if he hadn't figured out a way to escape and put his plan into action. By isolating themselves from each other, based on race or creed or social class or sexual orientation or political persuasion any other number of categories, the human race builds walls that risk self-destruction. How necessary it is that we resist the tendency to fear those who are different from us and to see them as a threat. Rather, God calls on us to risk opening the door to them, as we are being asked to do in the Catholic Charities appeal.

Walls are not inevitable. Made in God's image, we humans are meant to dwell in an indivisible community of love, just like the Holy Trinity. Perfect unity is our destiny, for God's purpose for each of his children is to dwell with him forever in the perfect unity of the Trinity. As people baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and strengthened by eucharist, let us apply ourselves to the task of cultivating an unbreakable unity among all God's children, first in our own communities and then spreading out from there.

-May 15, 2016
It is the Spirit that gives life, as our celebration of Pentecost Sunday reminds us.

My Dad had O negative blood, which is the one type that just about everyone can receive. Being a generous man, he regularly would donate blood and often was contacted by the Red Cross about doing so. Perhaps it was his service in the Army as a medical corpsman during World War II, followed by a year in Korea during the war there, that made him so aware of the gift of life that donating blood is. He saw his share of men who would've died but for someone making that small sacrifice.

All of us know that blood is bodily life. On account of that, some of you here probably roll up your sleeve several times a year, see your arm swabbed with iodine, and watch as a needle punctures a vein. But not everyone is capable of this. Some have a medical condition that precludes it. Others don't have blood vessels that take well to needles, while some of us just can't handle needles, period.

Some amazing folks come to mind that I've encountered over the years-Mike, Colleen, Teri, and Connie-and though I don't know whether they ever have given blood, I've witnessed them donating a life essence that is even more important. It doesn't drip from their arm. Rather, it flows from their hands and tongues, once their eyes have seen and their ears have heard about yet another wound that needs attention. Though everyone can't give blood, we all have spiritual gifts and resources to share with our suffering sisters and brothers.

It might be a co-worker who needs patching up, for his mother's sudden death has left him in a world of hurt. Then there's your elderly neighbor, whose diabetes is worsening and who can't afford her medication. Or maybe it's a classmate of yours, devastated because his dad might be deported. Or one of your friends who has lost his way and needs to hear your story of receiving the Lord's comfort and guidance when you were close to despair.

Who is it that gives life? The Holy Spirit, and as Christians, all of us are to pour forth the Spirit, who is the life essence for the Christian as blood is for the body.

After Jesus died, was raised, and returned to his Father, he sent his Spirit. In chapter two of the Acts of the Apostles, this is depicted as fiery tongues coming to rest on the disciples in the house where they have gathered. Chapter 20 of John's gospel places this event in a locked room where the frightened disciples are hiding, as Jesus appears in their midst, bids them peace, and breathes upon them the Holy Spirit.

Someone weak and perhaps even dying from blood loss is given a new lease on life thanks to a blood transfusion. So it was with the disciples. They were brought to life by the Spirit poured on them on that first Pentecost, as portrayed by Luke in Acts. Revived in this way, they commenced proclaiming the risen Christ to everybody, like medics in a spiritual field hospital. Even the throngs of Jews from distant lands, in Jerusalem for the Passover, understood them.

Thus, God reversed the confusion he'd sown at the Tower of Babel, when he'd made it impossible for humans, who until that moment had spoken a common language, to comprehend each other. This prevented them from building their tower reaching to the heavens, which represented their desire to be a god unto themselves. The bestowal of the Holy Spirit empowered God's true servants to unify all people in Jesus Christ, which is the work we continue today.

There's no stopping the Spirit, the very Spirit who flowed into you and me when we were baptized. Jesus died, was raised, and ascended to his Father so that he could impart his Spirit. Otherwise we wouldn't have life. And the Lord calls on us to act as his instruments in leading others to that life.

"Rivers of living water will flow from within him who believes in me," he says in chapter seven of John's gospel, referring to the Holy Spirit his disciples were to receive. All of us know people like Mike, Colleen, Teri, and Connie, who are superb models of Christian living, and like them we are to patch up those around us wounded in mind, body, or spirit; practice mercy and forgiveness; act as peacemakers; bring to bear the powerful gift of prayer; and die to ourselves. In such ways as these, we serve as a streambed for that living water of the Spirit.

Pentecost is a joyful occasion on the Church calendar, like birthdays always are. Nearly 2,000 years ago the Church was born when Jesus sent his Spirit upon his disciples. That joy is tempered a bit here at St. Therese Parish today, as we commemorate our school. For 89 years it has been a tributary by which the Holy Spirit's living water has refreshed our children, but in 12 days its doors will close once and for all.

It is good to see so many among us whose lives have been influenced by our school. The education you received there and the school's contribution toward molding your faith impact you to this day. Consequently, the fruit you bear gives witness, just like the sterling qualities imparted to us by our long-dead parents or grandparents speak to their ongoing significance for us.

Saddened though we are that John Paul II Academy soon will be no more, let us praise God for all that it has accomplished, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Brothers and sisters, life is ours through the Spirit given to us in baptism. Soon we will receive eucharist, which nourishes and unifies us so that we can share the gospel of life with the world by means of our spiritual gifts. As spiritual medics, let us take note of the wounded around us who need our attention and pour forth God's healing love upon them.

-May 8, 2016
We have been hearing how Jesus appeared to the disciples after the Resurrection. He appeared to Mary Magdalene in the garden that first Easter morning. He appeared to two disciples walking to Emmaus, and ate dinner with them. He appeared to the disciples in the Upper Room at least twice. He had breakfast with Peter, John, and some other disciples on the beach. So, we are told very clearly that Jesus was bodily present to the disciples after His death and Resurrection.

Twice today we hear an account of Jesus's Ascension. We hear the end of the Gospel according to Luke and the beginning of Luke's Acts of the Apostles. Two slightly different versions attributed to the same evangelist; but, with the same fundamental message. Jesus had appeared bodily with the disciples after His crucifixion and resurrection, has now bodily left us, but has promised to return, and has promised to send the Holy Spirit. The story will continue next week with an account of the first Pentecost.

Now we are told that Jesus goes out to a hill in Bethany with the disciples, talks with them briefly, and then is "taken up" to heaven. He left them-again. Jesus, whom they had followed for three years and come to believe was the Messiah, who would restore the kingdom of Israel, had been crucified and left them confused and frightened. Then appeared to them bodily enough times to convince them that He had indeed risen from the dead and was with them again. And now he is gone again. Should they not be devastated? Instead, we are told, they "returned to Jerusalem with great joy." Why? Because they believed Jesus when He said that He would return. Because they believed Him when He said that He would send the Holy Spirit to empower them. Because by his Ascension to Heaven, Jesus becomes present in all places at all times.

When Jesus, the Son of God, was born as a human baby to the Virgin Mary, he allowed himself to be limited by the laws of time and space. After His resurrection, Jesus was exempt from those physical laws (e.g., he could walk through locked doors) but the disciples only encountered Him in places where His glorified body was present. If Jesus had not ascended, then right now his glorified body would be present in some single, specific physical place, and that would become the place where we would need to go to be in His presence. But, because He rose from the dead with a glorified body and then ascended to heaven, Jesus is no longer limited by time and space. He is present everywhere throughout creation.

As St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, and we declare in today's psalm response, Jesus has mounted his throne at the right hand of the Father, far above every other power in the universe, and is head of the church, which is now his Mystical Body. We are members of that Body by virtue of our Baptism. We, the Church, are presently the earthly body of Christ for the world.

Before ascending, Jesus promised the disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit to empower them. We have received that Spirit in Baptism. In a few weeks some of our young people will receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, in which they will experience a fresh outpouring of that Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that descended on the early disciples at Pentecost. It is the Spirit by which Jesus told the disciples they would receive power to be His witnesses "to the ends of the earth." We receive that same Holy Spirit, that same power to be Christ's witnesses as we await his promised return. It is a power, and a grace that takes on many forms. The power and grace of the Holy Spirit give us the gifts needed to carry on the work of witnessing for the building up of the Kingdom of God.

That witness can take on many forms, from the martyrdom of someone like Maximilian Kolbe, to the homebound young lady who makes rosaries or prayer shawls, or faithfully keeps us in her daily prayers; from the heroic charity of a Mother Teresa of Calcutta to the wife patiently caring for her Alzheimer's suffering husband; from Pope Francis to the gentleman who simply goes through his day with a contagious joyful attitude. We are all empowered by the Spirit to be witnesses for Jesus.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful; and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Lord, send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created; and you will renew the face of the earth.
We have received the power of the Holy Spirit to be Christ's witnesses to the ends of the Earth.

Easter Blessings,
Dcn. Bob

-May 1, 2016
By far the best friend we have is the Holy Spirit. I think this story about Harvey helps us to understand the friend we have in the Spirit.

Once upon a time there was a fellow named Elmwood who had a very tall friend called Harvey, and Harvey was a rabbit. Besides being tall, Harvey was invisible to everybody except for Elmwood. Everywhere Elmwood went so did Harvey. Being the best of friends, Elmwood relied on Harvey to help him, and Harvey never let him down.

Not only was Harvey the biggest rabbit imaginable, since he was over six feet tall, he also possessed some amazing powers. Because of him Elmwood almost always was cheerful. Harvey not only gave great advice but also had the ability to stop time and to take you anywhere you wanted to go, even from Garfield Heights to Disney World, in a split second.

Elmwood would introduce everyone he met to his invisible rabbit friend. Many thought Elmwood was crazy, including his own sister and niece, who wanted to place him in a hospital for people who were out of their minds.

So Elmwood was hospitalized. It looked like he was going to be given a shot that would get rid of Harvey, but in the end Elmwood's sister decided this was a bad idea. You see, sometimes even she could see Harvey, and maybe the rabbit helped her to realize that it wouldn't be good for Elmwood to lose such a wonderful friend. Even the doctor treating Elmwood became a friend of Harvey.

This story comes from a movie made in 1950 called Harvey, and I think it has something to tell us about our reading today from John's gospel and the great friend we have in the Holy Spirit.

At this point in the gospel it's the Last Supper. Jesus and his disciples have finished their meal, he has washed their feet, and informed them that one of them will betray him. In the passage we just heard, he is telling them that he must leave them, which makes them terribly sad. He knows that he is about to be arrested and put to death on a cross.

Imagine how you would feel if you just found out that your best friend was going to die very soon. You would start to cry, and that's how it is for the disciples.

But Jesus wants them to know that really this is the best thing that ever could happen to them. That's because when he dies, rises, and returns to his Father in heaven, the Father will send the Holy Spirit or Advocate to stay with them always. The Spirit's job will be to remind them of everything Jesus had taught them. He will help them to know what to do in every situation and show them the way to peace, contentment, and happiness.

Doesn't the Holy Spirit sound like Harvey? Harvey was Elmwood's best friend, just as the Spirit is for you and me. Like Harvey, the Spirit always gives us good advice and helps us to be happy. Of course, no one can see the Holy Spirit, which sounds like Harvey, too. Unfortunately, some people don't believe in the Spirit, which also was how many reacted to Harvey.

Though I don't know how Harvey came into Elmwood's life, I can assure you that our friendship with the Holy Spirit is rooted in baptism. The sprinkling with holy water that took place early in our Mass today reminded us about the importance of baptism. It has filled us with the Holy Spirit, made us God's adopted children, united us to Jesus and each other as the family of God, and cleansed us from sin.

How lucky we are to have the Holy Spirit as our friend. I hope every one of us appreciates and values this great friend and always seeks his advice. Because Elmwood did so with Harvey, everything worked out for him just fine. How do we open our hearts to the Spirit's advice? Through prayer, the sacraments, the Bible, and the Church's teaching.

Let us never make the mistake of rejecting the Spirit or do anything to harm another person's relationship with the Spirit. Elmwood's sister almost did this concerning his friendship with Harvey. If she had succeeded, I doubt that Elmwood would have been cheerful and happy any more.

Who is our greatest friend? The Holy Spirit. Without him we would be completely lost, so let us stay close beside him.

We keep our friendship with him strong with the help of eucharist. What a tremendous gift this is that you children will receive today for the first time! I hope all of us who are so fortunate to eat Jesus' Body and drink his Blood every day, if we want, never will shrug our shoulders at this greatest of meals. Those who choose to do without it starve themselves spiritually.

If a person decides to stop eating food, even though plenty of it is around, that eventually will kill him. Wouldn't we say that he or she has to be crazy? It's even more crazy for someone to turn his or her back on eucharist, because the health of the soul is more important even than the body's health.

And so, since eucharist makes such a huge difference in our friendship with God, may we seek it out by coming to Mass every Sunday, no matter what. So much does God love us that Jesus, his only begotten Son, died for us and was raised. To forget this would be terrible, and eucharist keeps our memory about this strong, just as it enables us to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit's guidance.

-April 24, 2016
The other day I was talking to someone who spoke with great pride about her daughter. This young lady excels in academics as well as in a number of other endeavors, to such an extent that her fellow high school seniors chose her as woman of the year. In this her classmates heaped glory on her.

To be glorified is to be singled out for some great honor. William Foster, one of our parishioners, for whom a Garfield Heights elementary school is named, was glorified by winning the Medal of Honor during World War II. While he fought in the Battle of Okinawa, a Japanese hand grenade landed in his foxhole. To save another Marine, he threw himself on it, absorbing the explosion.

John Glenn was heaped with glory for being the first U.S. astronaut to orbit the Earth. Who was glorified as the MVP in this year's Super Bowl? The Denver Broncos' Von Miller.

These are the sort of things we typically associate with the notion of winning glory.

In today's passage from John's gospel, the notion of glorification is spoken of four times by Jesus. The setting is the Last Supper, and Judas has just departed, with the intention of betraying his master. "I will be with you only a little while longer," Jesus informs his disciples, for he knows that his death is close at hand.

Jesus soon will die on a cross as a condemned criminal. In the world's eyes that isn't glorious; it's shameful. But in this gospel Jesus recognizes it as glorifying his Father, for by means of his cross and subsequent resurrection, humanity will be saved from sin and death. By accepting the cross, Jesus accomplishes the purpose for which he was born.

To contribute to your team's winning the big game, to garner accolades in school, to invent the laptop computer, etc.: These are commendable achievements that we understandably glorify. Still, let us not forget that as Christians we give short shrift to worldly honors. The person we most praise and exalt endured an ignominious death. As St. Paul tells us in today's reading from the Acts of the Apostles, "It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God."

We are glorified by walking in Jesus' footsteps. Those footsteps unavoidably lead us to hardships, as they did for St. Maximilian Kolbe. Like Jesus, his death was ignominious, as in Auschwitz his Nazi captors starved him until, tired of waiting for him to die, they injected him with poison. Fr. Kolbe had volunteered for this fate, in order to spare another prisoner.

We glorify God and in God's eyes cover ourselves with glory through rather mundane hardships. We see this in parents who practice patience with their rebellious teen. A certain glory is to be found in the effort of a wife and husband, both recently retired and still adjusting to this radical change, to practice mercy and tolerance when they get on each other's nerves.

Just as Jesus' cross wasn't glorious in the world's view, your choice to forgive someone who has wronged you might seem to others the height of foolishness. The world says the same thing when you pray for your enemy and do good to him, and also when you decide to pursue a simple lifestyle so that you are able to give away more to those in need.

But there also are times when our hardships take the form of enduring ridicule or rejection in response to actions we take that our faith requires of us. Such might be the case because we speak out against abortion or the wars our nation chooses to wage, or because we intervene for an undocumented immigrant or denounce an unethical practice in the workplace.

When we, Jesus' disciples, embrace hardships like these we glorify God, as Jesus glorified him through the cross. By such means, which eucharist makes possible, we come more and more to resemble our Savior and reveal him to the world.

-April 17, 2016
"No one can take them out of my hand," Jesus says in today's passage from John's gospel, "And no one can take them out of the Father's hand." Reassured by this promise of Jesus to us, his faithful flock, we have nothing to fear.

Yet, like sheep stalked by a wolf, we do struggle with fear. Therefore, let us make use of our spiritual ears to hear Jesus' voice and follow him. We do well to call to mind that God is in charge. The author of the Book of Revelation wanted to make this clear to the early Christians, who were suffering persecution from Rome.

Reasons for fear never have been in short supply. "Will our crops fail? Will our enemies sweep in and attack us? Will an epidemic strike? Will some dread evil influence fix itself on us?"

In one of the Grimm's fairy tales, a shepherd named Joringel had occasion for great fear. The young man had fallen in love with a beautiful maiden named Jorinda. They were soon to be married, but one day, as they were walking in a distant forest, paying attention only to each other, great harm befell them. They had wandered too close to a castle occupied by a witch. This witch delighted in snatching beautiful maidens and changing them into songbirds. Placed in cages, these unfortunate creatures, numbering in the hundreds, spent all their days singing for the witch.

As they sat side by side in sight of the castle, with Joringel lightly napping and enjoying the sound of Jorinda singing, he opened his eyes and glanced as his beloved, whose voice had suddenly gone silent. The beautiful maiden had vanished! In her place was a nightingale held in the hand of a crooked old woman, yellow and lean, with large red eyes and a hooked nose, the point of which reached to her chin.

Joringel would have leapt to his feet and jumped on this witch, but he could neither move nor speak, on account of a spell she had cast. As darkness fell and she freed him, the youth fell on his knees and pleaded for Jorinda's return, to no avail. Unwilling to go back to his village, he found refuge elsewhere and tended that place's sheep for a long time. Though his steps often led him back to the castle, he never saw or heard Jorinda.

He was losing hope until, one night, he had a dream. In it he found a beautiful purple flower, in the middle of which lay a precious pearl. He dreamed that he plucked the flower, and went with it to the castle, where everything he touched with it was freed from enchantment, including his beloved Jorinda. The next morning he began searching for this flower. For nine days he looked everywhere until, on the ninth day, he discovered a gorgeous purple flower in which nestled a large dewdrop, looking very much like the pearl of his dream.

Plucking it, he hurried back to the castle. Its massive doors opened when he touched the flower to them. Upon entering, the music of 700 songbirds greeted him, but how was he to know which was Jorinda? At that moment the witch came upon him, filled with rage and spitting curses at him, none of which could touch him, thanks to the purple flower.

Snatching one of the cages, she made for the door. Joringel chased after her and touched the cage with his flower. In an instant the nightingale was transformed into his lovely Jorinda, and the witch's power was no more. After freeing all the other maidens from enchantment, the shepherd and his betrothed returned to their village and were married, to live happily ever after.

It seemed impossible that Joringel's fears for Jorinda ever would end. And we might feel the same way in the face of our fears. Confronted with Roman persecution that could result in loss of property, imprisonment, or even death, the early Christians had great cause for fear. Yet, Jesus calls on us to have confidence that he shelters us and leads us aright, no matter how invincible the powers arrayed against us appear.

As Joringel the shepherd defeated the witch, so our Good Shepherd overcomes the forces of evil that we encounter. None of them can withstand the power of love that Jesus shares with us in baptism and in which we are strengthened through eucharist.

Relying on the sacraments and the Good Shepherd's voice that we hear in Scripture, the Church, and our prayer, let us be confident that we are safe in the hand of Jesus and the Father.

-April 10, 2016

-April 3, 2016
God's Mercy endures forever.

At times, it can seem like our world is falling apart. In parts of the world, people are being killed, executed because they are Christian. The Middle East, and elsewhere people live in fear of ISIS, and other terrorist groups. In our own country, we experience shootings in our streets, in shopping centers, even in our schools. Even our own homes may be places of violence. Life can be filled with chaos. We can live in fear of strangers, fear of neighbors, fear of running out of money, fear of thunderstorms, fear, fear, and more fear.

It was like that for the disciples on that first Easter Sunday evening. All they knew for certain was that Jesus, the man they had been counting on to restore the kingdom of Israel, had been executed on a cross, and his body was missing from his grave. Mary Magdalene says she saw Him, but where is he now? Based on the facts, that was all they knew; and, because they were His disciples, their lives were in danger. Is it any wonder that they were hiding behind locked doors?

It is only when Jesus comes to them and offers them His peace that they can face their fears and go out into the world to share the gospel and, for many, to suffer martyrdom. It is only when they encounter the Risen Lord that He can breathe the Spirit into them and send them out to share His Peace with the world. The peace that Jesus offers is not the same peace that the world can create and enforce. Our word "peace" simply implies an absence of violence or turmoil. Jesus offers "shalom" which includes our peace, but is much more. Shalom is peace, health, prosperity, wholeness; everything good. This offer of "Peace be with you" is not simply a greeting, either. It is a prayer for another's well-being and right relationship with God. It is prayer that God's Mercy would be manifested in that person's life.

The peace offered by Christ is borne out in the lives of the early disciples as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. "The community of believers was of one heart and mind." They shared what they had with those in need. They gathered to share meals, and to pray and worship together. They extended God's peace and mercy to their friends and neighbors. They spread the good news of the Resurrection, and how they had experienced God's Mercy. Shalom peace is one aspect of God's infinite Mercy. Mercy that "endures forever."

Mercy is another of those words we use that does not do justice to the original Hebrew word. In our psalm today, we heard three times that God's "mercy endures forever." But the word translated into mercy is "hesed" which translates better as loving kindness, or covenant love, or enduring compassion. We do not seem to have an appropriate English word. Maybe we need to call it infinite, enduring, compassionate love. But even that is not sufficient. Hesed describes God's infinite, unending desire for our salvation.

In 1924, a 19-year-old girl in Poland experienced a vision of Jesus while at a dance; a rather extraordinary event in such an ordinary setting-we should expect to find Jesus in the ordinary places and events of our lives. She had for several years desired to become a nun, and now seeking advice after this vision was told that she should go to Warsaw and enter a convent. After being rejected by one convent after another, and beginning to become discouraged, she was accepted by the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. In 1931, Sister Maria Faustina was asked by Christ in another vision to have a picture painted of Jesus, King of Divine Mercy, with red and white rays emanating from his heart, representing the blood and water that poured out from his pierced side on the Cross. Below the image were to be the words "Jesus, I trust in you." Jesus told Faustina, "Tell people that I am love and mercy personified." She was to be "an apostle of the Mercy of God," and ask that the Church celebrate Divine Mercy on the Sunday after Easter. In 2000, Pope St. John Paul II canonized St. Faustina Kowalska. Though she was only 33 years old when she died, and she spent much of her live in a convent, the message of Mercy that Jesus asked her to deliver has spread throughout the world. God is Merciful, and Jesus is Mercy Incarnate. God desires more than anything else that all people come to know his love and mercy. There is nothing that God will allow to stand between us and his Mercy, no sin He will not forgive. Blood and water gushed forth from the side of Jesus as a fountain of Mercy for us and the whole world.

God is indeed merciful; but, it can be difficult to be open to God's Mercy. There are so many obstacles, so many distractions, and so many temptations. Jesus died for the salvation of all people; but not all people come to Jesus and accept that salvation. He opened the gates, but not everyone walks through. He broke the chains that bind us, but not all of us can drop the chains. God offers Mercy, but we need to be open to it. We need to ask for it. We need to accept it. We need to pray that God's Mercy would be manifest in our lives and in the world today. We need to be messengers of God's Mercy and Peace.

Like the disciples locked in the upper room, we live in a violence-filled world, surrounded by chaos. But like them, we can experience the Risen Jesus. We were incorporated into the Body of Christ, into God's family at our Baptism. We are strengthened in the Spirit, nourished for our mission every time we receive the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion. Like the disciples, we are sent out by Jesus to share the Gospel, the Good News of God's Mercy with everyone we know, to show them how our relationship with God guides our life and gives us His Peace. We are sent to share God's Mercy and Peace with one another and with our world in an infectious way. We are sent to say to the world "God's Mercy endures forever."

God's Mercy endures forever.

Easter Blessings,
Dcn. Bob

-March 27, 2016 - Easter Sunday
"He's a man. He's just a man." So Mary Magdalene sings as she puzzles over Jesus in the 1973 musical Jesus Christ, Superstar. However, you and I know better, that Jesus is much more than just a man.

In another great show that had hit the theaters 34 years earlier, a mighty voice booms, and the heroine and her three friends rear back in fright. Then the girl's bold little dog scampers to a curtain, pulls it back, and the awful truth is revealed.

In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and Toto, along with the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion, have completed their hazardous journey to seek help from the great wizard. But they discover that behind the curtain is a humbug with little power at all. What a bitter disappointment!

Dorothy's hope of returning to her family in Kansas seemingly has turned to dust, for to trust in a man or the help of any human is to trust in vain. In the end, it is from a supernatural creature, the Good Witch of the North, that Dorothy learns how to get back to the ones she loves.

For Peter and the other apostles in today's passage from Luke, it is the dawn of a new and terrifying day. In Jesus' death they too have suffered a disappointment that is indescribably bitter. They had seen him as the answer to all their hopes and dreams, just as Dorothy thought the wizard would be for her.

They know he was someone very special and the instrument of God-the Messiah himself. However, in their minds the Messiah would be a man with the purpose of restoring Israel to its glory days, as when it had been independent and strong during the rule of King David 900 years earlier. They don't grasp that Jesus is far more than a man. His power infinitely exceeds that of the Good Witch of the North, for he is the very Son of God. But his power has nothing to do swords and political alliances; love and mercy are its purpose, a purpose they are to make their own.

In vain do we place our trust in human help. That's what Dorothy learns. So do the apostles in this reading, because, while Jesus was unlike anyone they had ever known, to them he still was but a man.

Consequently, fear now grips them, for in short order Jesus' fate could be their own. Just as bad, they feel utterly lost. What should they do with themselves? Return to fishing, tax collecting, and the other occupations they had followed in their previous life? As these concerns churn within, some of the women, who are less likely to be accosted by the authorities than the men, have gone to the tomb to finish Jesus' burial preparations.

What sorry faith all of them have. "Do not be afraid," Jesus had reassured Peter the day he'd called on him to become a disciple, yet Peter and the rest of them are filled with fear. Hadn't Jesus cleansed lepers, healed the paralytic, cast out demons, forgiven the sinners, with a few loaves and fish fed the thousands, and given sight to the blind? In his name hadn't they themselves cured the sick and cast out demons? Jesus' miraculous works pointed to his true identity, but his followers couldn't see at the time of those amazing deeds and still can't see because their faith is too shallow.

Hadn't he taught them that those who are hungry will be satisfied and those who weep will laugh? Hadn't he predicted his death and assured them he would be raised, giving a foretaste of this when, in the presence of Peter, James, and John, he was transfigured? "Listen to me," Jesus repeatedly had said, but apparently his words and deeds had not found rich soil in them so as to bear fruit. If only they trusted in his words to them that the Father knows what they need and will provide. Such trust is what is required of you and me today as we bear our heavy burdens.

"He's a man. He's just a man." As long as they hold this misconception their hands will remain tied, and they will find themselves unable to practice the love and mercy of Jesus. And this is just as true for each of us. Only our faith in Jesus' divine power enables us to follow his way of love and mercy.

Suddenly Mary Magdalene and the other women rush in, bursting with the shocking words, "Jesus has been raised." Neither the women nor the apostles understand what this means. The tomb is empty: That is the extent of Mary's knowledge and Peter's, too, after he runs there himself. He is amazed, but amazement is a far cry from faith.

To trust in the help of any human is to trust in vain. Jesus is man and also God. This we believe-all of us who have been baptized into his death and resurrection. Our faith assures us that he is the Son of God whom the tomb could not hold. Later in this chapter of Luke's gospel, Peter will progress from simple amazement to actual faith when the risen Jesus appears to him. Fifty days later, as we hear in the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit will rest on Peter and his fellow disciples and fill them, empowering them to bear witness to Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, we trust not in human power but in power that is divine. So often we are lost like Dorothy and afraid like the Cowardly Lion and the apostles. We weep at the injustice we personally suffer and all too often see in the world. We hunger for love and mercy, as the Tin Man pined for a heart and the Scarecrow for a brain.

We have come here today to remember: to remember that the Risen One gives us what we need to truly live, just as he did for the blind man, the lepers, and those possessed by demons.

We come here to celebrate his love and mercy, manifested in its fullness in his cross and resurrection.

We come here to eat his Body and drink his Blood, so that the divine power which immeasurably transcends human help fills us. Then, leaving this place to bear witness to Jesus by word and deed, we communicate to everyone we meet the Good News that there is nothing to fear, for divine love has conquered sin and death.

-March 25, 2016 - Good Friday
One of the most-mentioned words in our reading from John's gospel is "king," which is used 12 times. We think of kings as very powerful rulers, like the 16th century's King Henry VIII of England, who had many people, including two of his six wives, executed.

Jesus indeed is a king who exercises great power, but not along the lines of Henry VIII. While Henry inspired great fear, this wasn't true of Jesus. After all, don't the words used in our reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah apply to him in the position in which he found himself that day as he stood a prisoner before Pilate: a man of suffering who was afflicted, oppressed, crushed, spurned, stricken, and smitten?

Yet the gospel tells us that Pilate was afraid. One could say his was fear caused by the threat that the Jewish religious leaders would report to his superiors that he chose not to execute someone who claimed to be a king, someone who thus was a threat to Roman power. A deeper reading, however, suggests that Pilate had another reason to fear, for he stood in the presence of divinity. Though he didn't know it, we the readers do.

We should stand in fear before God, but not the sort of fear felt by someone facing execution. Another fear, known as fear of the Lord, which is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, can be better understood as awe. In the presence of God's glory, we'd be filled with awe. Could it be that this explained Pilate's fear?

Ironically, Jesus, whom the Jewish religious leaders falsely accused of blasphemy and who himself never claimed to be the king of the Jews, indeed was a king. As he stood before Pilate, he posed no political threat to Rome's power. And so Pilate, who sensed this, asked him, "What have you done?"

Here is the answer Jesus could honestly have given: "I've borne witness to God by teaching of his mercy, testifying to the truth, forgiving sins, and such signs as healing lepers, restoring the limbs of the crippled, giving sight to be blind, feeding the hungry, casting out demons, and raising the dead."

It seems unlikely that the Roman emperor would have found any of these things a reason to fear for his throne. Yet, if he could have seen into the future, he very well might have recognized the danger posed by the love this spurned, afflicted man of suffering posed.

Many centuries later, during World War II, an insignificant event transpired that illustrates the danger Christ-like love poses. After Nazi Germany invaded Norway, one night a Gestapo officer had a Lutheran minister brought into his office to interrogate him. Wordlessly, the Gestapo man placed his pistol on his desk as an implicit threat to the frightened minister sitting across from him. After looking at the pistol for a moment and then at his interrogator, this man of God placed his own weapon on the desk: a Bible.

Maybe the Nazi laughed derisively at this, as the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke say the religious leaders and passerby did to the crucified Jesus. Worldly power might mock the power of love, but divine love always defeats the evil represented by that Nazi's gun.

Our divine king went to his death, but the power of love raised him. That power is at work in us, Jesus' subjects, just as Peter, Paul, Mary Magdalene, and countless other Christians who preceded us served as its instruments, leaving Rome and many other earthly regimes buried in the dust.

"What have you done?" In answer to this question Pilate put to Jesus, I hope we may respond that we have fed the hungry and given water to the thirsty, visited the sick and the imprisoned, clothed the naked and sheltered the homeless, comforted the sorrowful and forgiven injuries, bore wrongs patiently and admonished the sin and prayed for the living and the dead.

By performing these corporal and spiritual works of mercy we, the servants of our divine King, carry on his work and put fear into the heart of Satan and all who adhere to him.

-March 20, 2016 - Palm Sunday
Here in church today I see Johanna, John, Douglas, Kathy, and numerous other folks whose names are familiar to me. Is there anything significant about a person's name?

The Plains Indians thought of the buffalo bull as a headstrong, stubborn creature that was afraid of nothing. When in 1845 a particular 14-year-old boy showed these qualities while taking part in his first war party, his proud father gave him the name Sitting Bull. Rising to the position of war chief and then principal chief of his Sioux tribe, Sitting Bull repeatedly proved himself to be like a stubborn buffalo bull planted unmovably on his haunches, including in the defeat of the U.S. cavalry under Lt. Col. George Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.

A name can have significance, as in the case of Sitting Bull. In the Gospel of Luke, the first time we hear the name Jesus mentioned is in the 26th verse of chapter one. This name means "The Lord Saves," and that definitely signifies something incredibly important for the whole of creation. In the battles Sitting Bull fought over the course of 45 years, he showed how appropriate his name was. It was likewise for Jesus in the war he waged against the Evil One. He demonstrated the truth of his name, for Jesus was the Father's instrument in saving humanity from sin and death.

God is boundless in his mercy. We have no greater evidence of this than his Son's death on the cross. Can anyone deny how desperately we need this mercy? This could be no clearer than in his followers' behavior as Jesus' final engagement in his war with Satan approached, for the influence of the enemy on Jesus' followers showed itself.

At the Last Supper they argued among themselves who was the greatest. Then they fell asleep as Jesus endured his agony on the Mount of Olives. After this Judas betrayed him, and one of the disciples sliced off the ear of the high priest's servant. Lastly, three times Peter denied knowing Jesus.

Though like Peter and the other disciples we are sinful, God unfailingly shows mercy to us, as the Scriptures tell us God always has done for his people. Ours is the work of practicing that mercy today, as we feed the hungry and clothe the naked, shelter the homeless and visit the sick and the imprisoned, admonish the sinner and comfort the sorrowful, counsel the doubtful and pray for others, as well as bear wrongs patiently and forgive all injuries.

As people who bear the name Christian this is our responsibility, one that God empowers us to perform thanks to the grace given to us in Jesus' Body and Blood.

-March 13, 2016
God is insane.

Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Based on this definition, how can we help but conclude that God indeed is insane?

A quick review of the Bible, which is the history of salvation, hardly allows for any other verdict, as it reveals God's unchanging insistence on practicing mercy towards his stiff-necked children.

Cain, who, as his brother Abel's killer, wins the distinction of being the first of the many murderers found in the Bible, is spared by God and given a mark to protect him from being killed. Fourteen chapters later in Genesis, Abraham dickers with God, who agrees to spare the notoriously-evil city of Sodom from destruction if just 10 just persons can be found there.

In Exodus God hears the cry of the enslaved Israelites, frees them from their bonds in Egypt, and protects them from the army that pursues them. As they journey through the wilderness, he provides them with manna and with water from the rock. When, after God has given his people the Ten Commandments, they create and worship the golden calf, he pardons them. Again they forget his kindness towards them and rebel repeatedly as they journey to the Promised Land. He chastens them and then grants mercy.

It's clear enough to us readers just how incorrigible his children are. How is it that God hasn't made this discovery yet? It's insane to be so forgiving! Would you and I be so foolish?

After gaining the Promised Land the people turn from God and then suffer at their enemies' hands. God hears their cries and provides them with leaders under whom they conquer those attacking them. However, the Israelites inevitably resume their sinful ways. The monarchy is established, but the kings almost always fall terribly short, including David, to whom God extends forgiveness time and again.

These flawed rulers and their people need help. So God sends the prophets, whom typically the kings ignore, to the great detriment of the Israelites. This culminates in the terrible disaster of the destruction by Babylon of Jerusalem and its temple and the 50-year exile.

These people never will learn. But it seems God won't, either, in that his habit of forgiving his people asserts itself yet again, resulting in their release from captivity and their return to the Promised Land. God certainly is insane. That's what insanity is: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

The point then comes when, like barren Sarah, who was given a child 18 centuries before, elderly Elizabeth bears John the Baptist. His kinsman Jesus enters the world six months later, thanks to the Virgin Mary's obedience to God's will. In this God demonstrates the infinite depths of his mercy, as he sends a savior to his chosen people, who otherwise never would find their way to him.

Last Sunday's gospel passage gave us the parable of the Prodigal Son, in which the father shows crazy mercy towards his two sons, despite their their for him. Today's gospel passage, from John, offers us once again a picture of God's mercy, as seen in Jesus' compassion to the woman caught in adultery. He condemns neither her nor the scribes and Pharisees, who shamefacedly drop their stones and creep away, hopefully having learned something about mercy.

Palm Sunday, which arrives in a week, features the story of Jesus' suffering and death, the culmination of human wickedness. However, the result isn't sinful humanity's well-deserved destruction at the hands of our righteous God. Rather, we see the ultimate manifestation of his insane mercy as he raises his Son from the dead, in order that sin and death would be vanquished, so much does the Father love the creatures made in his image and want them to be united with him in heaven.

Mercy towards an adulterous spouse? Mercy towards persons who, oblivious to their own weakness, imitate the Pharisees in their willingness to condemn another? Mercy towards the modern Cain on death row? Mercy towards an enemy who will do and say anything to attain his goal? Mercy towards the alcoholic family member? Mercy towards the migrant fleeing violence and grinding poverty?

It's insane to practice mercy towards people who inevitably fall back into the same unacceptable ways. So many voices in our world say. But that's what our crazy God does, and that's what he demands of us.

Bolstered by eucharist, prayer, and penance, including the communal penance service our parish will celebrate this afternoon, may you and I work to perfect our insanity in these remaining days of Lent.

-March 6, 2016
As Jesus was dying on the cross, Peter was in hiding. Not Mary Magdalene. She and a number of other women bravely looked on from a distance as their Lord suffered and died. Both of them loved Jesus, but on that first Good Friday only the behavior of one of them reflected this.

Then came his resurrection and ascension and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit, and in the years that followed, the Church took root and grew, with Peter as its leader. If Mary Magdalene had any of the flaws of the older son from the parable we heard in Luke's gospel, she might have been tempted to think scornfully of Peter or even reject him as unworthy. Wouldn't she have been justified to pass the verdict on him: "He's no rock. He's a coward"?

A wise and holy woman once said, "God has taken our sin. He has thrown it into the sea of forgetfulness, and he has posted a sign that says, 'No fishing allowed.' "

That's exactly what Jesus did with Peter's sin. According to John's gospel, when Jesus appeared to Peter and six other disciples following his resurrection, three times he asked Peter whether or not he loved him. Each time Peter said yes, and each time Jesus commanded him to feed Jesus' sheep. This represented Jesus' forgiveness of Peter's three-fold denial. Thereafter he forgot his friend's sins, and nobody else was welcome to go fishing for them.

Tradition titles today's parable as that of the prodigal son, after the youngest son, who so foolishly and selfishly wastes his inheritance. But we mustn't overlook the oldest son, who is no better than his brother. Each does great dishonor to his father.

I imagine that every one of us contains something of the youngest son and the eldest. Like the younger one, there are times when we want our way, without regard for the loving obedience we owe God. Then there are other times when, like the eldest son, we stick with God but serve him grudgingly not lovingly. Our attitude is that God owes us, just like the eldest son towards his father.

The father in the parable represents God and demonstrates an infinite, patient love for both of his sons. Overjoyed to have his youngest son back safe and sound, he treats him with great honor, as a way of signifying to his other son, his servants, and the people of the village that he has forgiven him and wants them to do likewise.

The father treats his resentful eldest son no less kindly, not holding his condemnatory stance against him. Rather, he strives to open the young man's eyes to the joy that he himself feels, that someone he so loves has come to his senses and returned to the path that leads to life.

The parable doesn't reveal how the eldest responded to his father's plea. Thus, we are invited to ask ourselves what we do in similar circumstances. Do we ignore the "No fishing allowed" sign that God posts beside the sea of forgetfulness where he tosses all sins?

We don't want other people fishing for our sins that lie on the bottom of that sea. That's where Jesus put Peter's sin of denying him, and it wasn't Mary Magdalene's job to put a fishing line down there.

Instead, empowered by eucharist, penance, and prayer, let us follow God's way of mercy by celebrating and rejoicing when sinners come to their senses and return to the fold.

-February 28, 2016
Two weeks ago my friend Stephen seemed fine, but today he is on life support and is expected to die soon, on account of an extremely aggressive form of cancer. A man of strong faith, he has tried to make Christ the center of his life, and I believe he has borne much fruit during his pilgrimage in this world.

The point of our readings from Exodus and Luke is that God is merciful. That is the meaning of our gospel's parable, in which the barren fig tree is spared for one more year, in the hope that it will produce figs. We find in Exodus that in his mercy God has heard the cry of the enslaved Israelites, whom he will rescue by means of his chosen instrument, Moses.

My friend Stephen is far from perfect, like all of us. Though he has applied himself to making Christ the center of his life, many have been the times when he has allowed himself to hover too closely to the center. Not a person lives who doesn't struggle in the same way. God's will is that we totally orient ourselves towards God, but in our sinfulness we, who belong on the periphery, make ourselves the focus.

Circumstances have been kinder to Stephen than to the people whom Pilate killed as they were preparing the animal sacrifice in the temple in Jerusalem and the 18 crushed to death by a falling tower in Siloam. Stephen had two weeks to put his energies into coming as close as possible to finishing the work of repentance. However, no such opportunity was given these unfortunates, whose death came suddenly.

Repentance involves not only sorrow for sin but also taking steps to change the way we live. It is the effort to push ourselves ever closer to the edge so that God will assume his rightful place at the center of the universe. We must remain ever mindful that our life isn't about us but about God.

Jesus warns, "If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!" This suggests that along with sudden physical death came spiritual death, because these victims of Pilate and the falling tower were not ready for divine judgment.

We put ourselves at great risk by delaying repentance. Tremendous mercy is God's hallmark, but the fig tree is given a reprieve of just a year in which to bear fruit. If it doesn't, down it comes. Similarly, we are wise to repent in the time God has granted us, lest it ends abruptly.

The purpose of Lent is repentance, with our eyes on being prepared to Easter with cleansed souls and also on readying ourselves to stand before God. None of us is free of sin because none of us is totally oriented towards God. Some might think that they have no opportunity to sin because of their advanced years, the infrequency of their getting out of the house, and their quiet life. Others review their lives and know they've never killed anyone, they don't steal, they are faithful to their spouse, they go to Mass, and they try to be kind. As for children, one may ask how sinful they can be.

Praise the Lord that we're innocent of murder, but how about that angry word we spoke or that evil thought we entertained or that resentment we bear? Though I might have done nothing to hurt another, failing to love my neighbor is something altogether different. If someone needs to be consoled and I'm too busy to respond, repentance is called for. If, like the rich man who in Luke's gospel never notices the beggar Lazarus' suffering, I pay no mind to the plight of the refugee or street person or pregnant teen with nowhere to turn, Jesus is speaking to me in today's gospel passage.

Without doubt, each of us needs to repent. We all need to apply ourselves strenuously to pushing God closer to the center and ourselves to the edge. May we use Lent well, taking stock of the ways our selfishness is manifested.

-February 21, 2016
We encounter the glory of God on a mountain, and then show that glory to the world.

There is something special about being on top of a hill or mountain. A hilltop vantage point allows one to see great distances, to see the world from a different perspective, to get one's bearings. Even looking out from the upper floor of a tall building, the view can be spectacular. From the higher floors of some buildings in downtown Cleveland, on a clear day (we get two of three of those each year), you can see all the way to Canada. Going up a mountain gets one away from cities, away from the congestion, the chaos of day life. Go high enough and we get above the exhaust fumes, into fresher air, we can even climb high enough to be above the clouds.

Frequently, Jesus goes up to a mountain to get away from the crowds and to pray. Today we hear that he takes Peter, James, and John with him to pray on a mountain. Why Peter, James, and John? These were the three leaders of the early Church in Jerusalem. They represent the Church. They represent us. We are invited to go with Jesus to the top of the mountain, to pray, to witness His glory. During this time of Lenten journey, Jesus invites us to come with him up the mountain, away from the concerns of life-as-usual, to examine our life from the mountaintop.

While Jesus is in prayer, he is transfigured. The three apostles see his face "change in appearance" and even his clothing become "dazzling white." They get a glimpse of the Resurrected Jesus in his Glory. It is also a glimpse into our future because, as St. Paul tells us, Jesus will make our bodies to conform with his Glorified body.

Moses and Elijah appear in the cloud with Jesus. Moses, who brought the Law, the Torah to Israel, speaks with Jesus, who brings a new law. Elijah was considered the greatest of the prophets, who spoke God's words to the people, speaking with Jesus, who is the Word of God Incarnate. Jesus comes as the fulfillment of what Moses and Elijah represent. They speak with Jesus about His exodus, which will be his death and resurrection. Moses led an exodus of Israel from slavery in Egypt; Jesus will lead us in an exodus from our slavery to oppression, violence, hatred, sin, and death itself. Jesus offers us an exodus into citizenship not in the Promised Land of Canaan, but the Promised Land of Heaven. Again, St. Paul tells us that our real citizenship is in heaven, not in this world.

For the Israelites, the Exodus included a journey of forty years, wandering in the desert, searching for the Promised Land. The desert is a sparsely inhabited place, away from the activity of cities. It is a quiet place. Journeying across the Sinai desert, one will find mountains that appear out of the generally flat land. Just so they came to Mount Sinai where the Commandments were given to Moses, the same mountain where Moses first encountered God in the Burning Bush. Those mountains are places of encounter with the Divine. So it is that the three disciples in today's story of the Transfiguration encounter the Divine on a mountaintop.

Our exodus journey begins in Baptism, when we become united with the Body of Christ. With every reception of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist we are strengthened for that journey. We come here to celebrate our citizenship in heaven, to worship God who is the source of our life and who is the destination of our journey.

In telling us that we are citizens of heaven, St. Paul also points to others whose "god is their stomach" and whose "minds are occupied with earthly things." They are more concerned with appeasing their hunger for physical pleasure and comfort than with their spiritual health. They worry more about their own desires than their relationship with God and with their spiritual brothers and sisters. This season of Lent is our time to enter the desert, to fast and to pray, concentrating more than usual on fasting from what we do not really need, and paying more attention to our relationship with God and our neighbor. Our home is not here; we are citizens of heaven. We are surrounded by distractions. Recall last week's gospel story in which we are told that even Jesus had to overcome temptation; and, the Transfiguration is a glimpse into the future. Today's gospel passage is preceded by Jesus' first prediction of his crucifixion.

The journey is not easy. Climbing mountains is difficult work; but it is worth the effort. And we have the grace of God to help us along the way. Remember, "Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body."

The journey is difficult, and sometimes we can get discouraged. Like Abram in today's first reading, we might ask God "How do I know you will do this for me? How can I be sure You are waiting for me at the end this journey?" God offered assurance to Abram by means of an animal sacrifice. God's answer to us is that this time He has provided His own Son as the sacrifice for our assurance of a heavenly homeland.

Peter wanted to build tents and stay on the mountain, but that was not meant to be. Having seen the glorified Jesus, they returned to the lowlands to resume their everyday life; as everyday as it could be with Jesus. We, too, are called to take time away from everyday life, to look at life from the mountain top, and take the time to encounter God.

But then we are sent back into the world, nourished by the very Body and Blood of Christ, to show God's glory to those around us by the way we live our lives.

We encounter the glory of God on a mountain, and then show that glory to the world.

May God bless you and your loved ones during this holy season of Lent,
Deacon Bob

-February 14, 2016
Temptation. How could he possibly resist it? Gene DeBruin had languished for nearly five years as a prisoner of war in Laos. The chance to escape held out the hope that the starvation, beatings, and sickness would end. It was June 28, 1968, and he, two other American airmen, his friend Y.C. To, and three Thai prisoners would attempt to break out the next day.

However, Y.C. suddenly was seized by a bout of malaria. He wouldn't be able to keep up with Gene and the other two Americans, who had intended to stick together. Gene's strong faith often had bucked up his fellow POW's, and now it really was challenged. He craved to live and get back home. The odds against this escape attempt already were high and would be astronomical if he were saddled with a man who hardly could walk.

The other American airmen urged him not to throw away his life by staying with Y.C. What would he do?

Temptation. The story of salvation illustrates how cunningly the Evil One wields temptation. Just look at Adam's fall, Sodom and Gomorrah's evil ways, the Israelites' worship of the golden calf, King David's adultery, the people's deafness to every prophet that God sent them, and so much more.

Every one of us is intimately familiar with temptation, and so was Jesus, as our passage from Luke's gospel makes clear. After 40 days of fasting, Jesus was tired and famished. That's when the devil chose to strike, in order to demonstrate that even the Spirit-filled Son of God was no match for the power of evil.

The Evil One failed. He constantly dogged Jesus, placing one obstacle after another before him throughout the Lord's public ministry, especially in Jerusalem, when he seduced Judas to betray Jesus and brought him to Golgotha.

You and I are no more immune to temptation than Judas was. We need the season of Lent in order to draw closer to God and to be nourished to turn from sin and reform our lives. Lent is a wake-up call to each and every one of us that sin poses a deadly threat. How easily we can pretend otherwise.

Will we resist the temptation to cheat on that test; or on our spouse? Will we stay quiet when we hear a racist remark, or will we object? Will we spend our tax return on stuff we don't need, even as people go hungry? Will we tear down the reputation of someone we don't like?

Gene desperately wanted to live. Nevertheless, he resolved that he wouldn't abandon Y.C. but would trust in God, as he always had. The seven men succeeded in overcoming the guards in the small compound. Gene and Y.C. would make their way to a nearby jungle ridge. Once the other Americans were rescued, they would direct the U.S. military to search for the two men there.

-February 7, 2016

-January 31, 2016
"Who are you? Who, who, who, who? I really wanna know. Who are you? Who, who, who, who? Tell me, who are you? Who are you? Who, who, who, who? 'Cause I really wanna know. Who are you? Who, who, who, who?"

This is the question asked by rock band The Who in their 1978 album Who Are You. You could say that Jesus also puts this question to us in today's passage from Luke's gospel.

As he visits his family, friends, and neighbors in his hometown of Nazareth, Jesus challenges their self-conception. Who are they?

We human beings tend to identify ourselves as belonging to this or that particular group: "You're from Pittsburgh? Grrrrhh! I'm a Clevelander and I loath the Steelers!"

In the same way, when I was a kid I loved playing with my Civil War toy soldiers, which of course always involved one group, called the Yankees, lined up against another group, the Rebels. And in westerns it might be the cowboys vs. the Indians or the farmers tangling with the cattlemen or the Mexicans vs. the gringos.

"Who are you, Jesus?" is what the people of Nazareth are asking when they hear the gracious words coming from his mouth during his visit to the village where he grew up. Of course they know him to be Joseph the carpenter's son. The thing is, Jesus is defying his society's expectations.

In that culture, a son was expected to pursue the trade of his father, and not to do so was considered disgraceful. The dynamic was quite different from how our culture functions. The Nazareans surely asked each other, with disapproval in their voices, why Jesus had chosen to become a wandering preacher when instead he should have been living in his boyhood home as a carpenter and raising a family.

Another gripe they had was with his choice to work miracles in Capernaum while ignoring Nazareth. The cultural norm was that you take care of your own first. In quoting the proverb, "Physician, cure yourself," Jesus expresses what the people are thinking: that he should have healed the sick in his hometown rather than in Capernaum.

So his friends, neighbors, and maybe even his family resent him for his disgraceful behavior. "Who are you, Jesus?", they want to know. "Are you putting on airs, thinking you are someone you are not?" They are not happy with him, and that sentiment grows into rage as he rubs salt in the wound, to such an extent that they try to kill him.

This he does by reminding these folks he knows so well that centuries before, the prophets Elijah and Elisha worked miracles on behalf of a pagan widow threatened with starvation and a pagan general afflicted with leprosy. They went that route despite the many Jews who also were going hungry and who suffered from leprosy.

In making this point, Jesus, who knows very well who he is, makes it clear to the people that God always has expected his Chosen People, the Jews, to lead all the world to faith in God. That's what Elijah and Elisha were about when they worked miracles for those two pagans. "You are not to be concerned only about your fellow Jews but about the Gentiles, too." This is Jesus' message to them.

He never failed in taking the route that doing his Father's will required of him. So he left carpentry to become an itinerant preacher and never married. To further his mission of proclaiming the Kingdom of God he worked miracles that didn't always endear him to his fellow Jews. Though eating with sinners ticked off the scribes and Pharisees, he didn't let this stop him.

As the Nazareans asked Jesus, "Who are you?", so Jesus asks us. His society defined him as a Jew, a son of Nazareth, and the offspring of Joseph and Mary, but he was far more than this. You and I do belong to certain groups, such as someone here today who is a white American male, a white collar worker, a Christian, and whose age group is 40-65. However, these categories fail to capture who we are in God's eyes.

No matter what we look like and how we live our lives, we are children of God who have been redeemed by Jesus' death and resurrection, and our purpose is to lovingly worship and serve God in imitation of our Savior, so as to express our gratitude for all that God has done for us.

And so we do good for all who are in need, even though she is not part of "my group", since she is a person of color, an undocumented immigrant from south of the border, is poor, and can't speak English.

Jesus cared not about categories but that the person standing before him was a beloved child of God and in need of the Good News that he himself embodied.

I hope that next Sunday all of us will call to mind who we are as we conduct the in-pew pledge process for the annual Catholic Charities appeal in our diocese. As Jesus' disciples, you and I have the responsibility to be of service to the suffering members of our community, like the nearly 400,000 persons in our area who last year benefited from the meals, shelter, foster homes, adult day care, counseling, and job and migration services made possible thanks to your pledges that support Catholic Charities.

"Who are you? Who, who, who, who?" May you and I be persons who imitate Jesus, relying on the grace granted to us through eucharist and prayer and confession.

-January 24, 2016
Would it sound odd if I say "It is good that my feet brought my eyes here to see you, my ears to hear your singing, and my mouth to speak the words that my hands wrote during the past few days?" While this statement is certainly correct in a technical sense, it is not correct in a realistic sense. I could say that my hands, feet, eyes, and so on are here today and be correct; but is it not more correct to say that I am here? While I can speak about individual parts of my body, I am one complete body. While my body is made up of individual, distinct parts, those parts exist as one whole body. This is the way Paul speaks about the Church as the Body of Christ.

By baptism, we become more than just members of an organization-the Church. We become members of the Body of Christ. Membership in the Body of Christ is not the same as membership in a club or social organization. It is not the same kind of membership as being in the Scouts. It is membership in a living organism. While the Church is represented by an earthly, human organization, it is much more. The Church, the People of God, is the living Mystical Body of Christ. We are members of the Body of Christ in the way that our hands and feet are members of our bodies.

It is precisely in this sense that St. Paul writes to us in his letter addressed to the Corinthians that "we were all baptized into one body" with many parts. Every part of the body is important. Each part has an important function, and no part is more important than any other. All are equal. All are necessary. Even the "less presentable" parts of the body have an important role in the proper functioning of the body. Without feet, how does one walk? Without eyes, how does one see? Earlier in this same letter, we heard this part last week, Paul wrote that each of us has gifts for the benefit of the community. As one body, we rely on one another's gifts. Together we have the gifts needed to further the work of building the Kingdom of God. The parts of the body work together for the benefit of the entire body.

Paul points out that when one member suffers the entire Body suffers. Is it not true that if you have a headache, it is not only your head that is suffering? If you are driving a nail and hit your thumb with the hammer, it is not just your thumb that is in pain; you are in pain. In the same way, if you are suffering in such a way that your relationship with your neighbor (as Jesus defines neighbor) suffers, then your relationship with the Body of Christ suffers. That means that your suffering has an impact on all the members of the Body of Christ. If I sin, and thereby my ability to pray for you is adversely affected, then you are injured by my sin, and we become disconnected. Fortunately, we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation to provide healing for the relationship between myself and God, between myself and you, between my part in the Body of Christ and the entire Body of Christ. We have the means to heal the Body, to make it whole again.

We are baptized into the Body of Christ. In Confirmation, we "receive the fullness" of the same Spirit that descended on Jesus at his Baptism, and to which he refers in today's Gospel passage when he says "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me." We strengthen our bond to the Body of Christ every time we celebrate the Eucharist and receive the Real Presence of Christ in Holy Communion.

We also should remember that we have brothers and sisters who have distanced themselves from the Church, who have removed themselves from the Body. When any member of the body is missing, the Body is incomplete and suffers. Jesus speaks in today's Gospel passage about bringing glad tidings, proclaiming liberty and a year acceptable to the Lord. Perhaps our absent brothers and sisters have not seen or heard those glad tidings as part of the Body. Perhaps they suffer from captivity or oppression of some kind. We are the ones who can proclaim the good news of God's Mercy by how we live our lives. We are sent from here every week to "Proclaim the Gospel" and to "Glorify the Lord" by how we live.

"Today," Jesus says, "this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." "Today" is not just the particular day on which those words were spoken. It is every day since those words were spoken. God's "today" is every day. Today, we are the Body of Christ present in the world. We are the ones called to carry out the mission that Jesus proclaims in today's Gospel passage. We are the ones anointed to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free. We are the ones who must show our neighbors that there is good news, that they can be freed from whatever holds them in captivity and oppression, whatever keeps them from seeing the truth that God loves them and desires that they enjoy the salvation and eternal life that God offers.

May God Bless You,
Deacon Bob

-January 17, 2016
It was a joyful wedding, and the newly-married couple felt deliriously happy. They had known each other from childhood and seemed the very proof of the cliché that opposites attract. He was serious and quiet, while she was boisterous and light-hearted.

Every couple seems to believe their life together will only bring happiness, and they were no different. However, difficulties set in soon enough. He was an architect and something of a homebody. She worked in sales and loved to go out. These differences began to build, and as her job involved a good deal of travel, he often found himself on his own at home.

Without intending to, she eventually got involved with another man. She broke it off, but then got into the habit of going out with friends on more and more nights. Sensing something was wrong, her husband confronted her, which led to a separation that left both of them miserable.

This is a scenario that gets repeated time and again. Even though two people love each other, problems develop that can wreck a marriage. One or another starts to question that love and loses sight of how important they are to each other. Sadly, divorce too frequently is the result.

If this happened to you or me, could we start fresh with our honey pot? I hope so, considering that our honey pot is God, as we see in today's passage from Isaiah, and our divine Lover never gives up on us.

Isaiah, along with a number of other Old Testament books, regularly depicts the relationship between God and his people as a marriage. That's because marital love is so special and its failure so devastating. The prophet lived in a time when Israel had proved itself terribly unfaithful to God. In chapter one Isaiah has a vision in which God likens his people to an adulteress. The following chapters spell out the punishment God inflicts on them.

God deals honestly with Israel, challenging the people's sinfulness and punishing them because that is what will bring them back to their senses. Their exile in Babylon teaches them how grievously they have sinned. They repent and seek pardon from their patient, ever-merciful Lord. And in the verses we heard today, which come from the end of the book, he takes them back. God rejoices in his bride, who, though once named "Forsaken" by her neighbors, he now calls "My Delight".

Like the adulteress Israel, you and I are at risk of violating our marriage covenant with God. Perhaps we indeed have, by failing to honor him with our worship, by bowing to false gods like money or success or the gratification of bodily hungers, and through our hard-heartedness towards the suffering of other people. Today is World Day for Migrants and Refugees, as was first declared by the Pope Pius X 102 years ago. It challenges us to examine our response to the plight of the tens of millions of our brothers and sisters who are forced from their homes because of violence or poverty.

Next Saturday and the one that follows, the annual Homeless Stand Down will take place. I encourage you to look upon the homeless members of our area with the eyes of God and respond by donating to ease their plight. In its sinfulness ancient Israel was guilty of evil-doing, including the practice of injustice. Since we, the New Israel, are susceptible to falling into the same pit, we must remain ever attentive to practicing mercy, as this Year of Mercy makes clear.

Despite our stiff-necked ways, God never gives up on us. When, having endured the great suffering our self-destructive choices inevitably bring us, we wake up to our betrayal of God, we always find him waiting to take us back.

Our gospel reading from John makes this clear. At a wedding feast, which in the Bible often symbolizes the heavenly banquet, God's Son supplies a huge amount of superb wine to the newly-weds, who otherwise would have been humiliated by running out of the fruit of the grape.

In other words, what we in our brokenness lack, God supplies, if we allow it. Superabundance is what God always is about-a superabundance of love, as represented by that 180 gallons of great wine. Rather than breaking up early, the party went on and on and on, thanks to Jesus' miracle.

The point of this gospel story is that life is ours in abundance through Jesus, the very face of the God's love. "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us," we hear from Jesus in chapter one, while in chapter three he says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." The boundless depth of God's love is seen in his Son's birth as one like us and his death on the cross. How merciful our divine Honey Pot is towards us!

Let us reject the ways that lead us to being called and seen as "Desolate," as befell ancient Israel. Rather, as a people fed with eucharist, which empowers us to serve God faithfully, let us proudly wear that term of endearment "My Delight", thrilled that we are espoused to God and looking forward to that greatest of parties to which God welcomes his beloved.

-January 10, 2016
A boxer doesn't just enter into the ring on the spur of the moment. In order to be ready for a bout, he has to condition himself and spar with other boxers, which takes time.

In a sense, Jesus was born for the ring. His purpose was to take on the devil and defeat him. To achieve this, he had to prepare, and that's what he did under Mary and Joseph's guidance and later as a disciple of John the Baptist.

Jesus sought baptism as a signal he was ready to climb into the ring with Satan. John's baptism was about the forgiveness of sins, which Jesus didn't need because he was free of sin. He accepted baptism in order to identify with the sinful human condition; he was saying, "I'm one of you". The descent of the Holy Spirit upon him, followed by the voice of God expressing his pleasure, reminds us of the true identity of the champion who was taking on our arch enemy.

Following his baptism, "Jesus went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil," the Acts of the Apostles says. In other words, he and Satan were exchanging blows, for their 12-round bout had begun. Because his power and strong arm would be too much for the Evil One, Jesus would free us from slavery to sin, bringing to an end our exile from God.

The fight was vicious, and it would require his death on a cross and resurrection to seal the victory. Only in that way could Jesus, in the words of our verses from Paul's Letter to Titus, "deliver us from all lawlessness and cleanse for himself a people as his own." We experience this cleansing in our own baptism.

Baptism gifts us with the Holy Spirit so that we, in imitation of Jesus, can do good and heal those oppressed by the devil. Though our battered adversary Satan has lost to our champion Jesus, he hasn't quit the ring. He constantly is trying to knock us out.

And that's why we must never let up our guard, which happens when we forget that we aren't in this world to serve ourselves. Every time we ignore another person's suffering or give in to greed or ridicule somebody is an opening that allows Satan to bust us in the jaw or in the ribs.

Only by cooperating with the Holy Spirit bestowed upon us in baptism can we get the best of the Evil One. We enable the Spirit to grow more powerful in us when we join with the faith community at Mass to share in eucharist, when we resort to the sacrament of reconciliation, and through daily prayer.

Since every one of us wants to hear the words, "You are my beloved in whom I am well pleased," let us carry on the fight against Satan, relying on the strength God unfailingly imparts to us.

-January 3, 2016
Have you ever seen any of the Iron Man films? Their hero is Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr., who is like you and me until he climbs into his armored suit. Sheathed in it, he is transformed and performs feats that otherwise would be impossible.

As the creation story in the Book of Genesis tells us, formed of worthless clay, humankind nonetheless was incredibly precious because God created us in his image and gave us the breath of life. Then God surpassed even this mark when Jesus became one like us with his birth in that Bethlehem stable.

Unlike the alchemists who centuries ago sought a method for changing iron into gold but failed, in taking on our mortal flesh God imparted to common dust a value far greater than gold. He exalted humankind by giving us a share in his divinity, by means of which we can accomplish far greater wonders than Iron Man.

Jesus appeared to be simply the child of a carpenter and a carpenter's wife, just as nothing seems extraordinary about the squirming 4-year-old among us today, or the college student soon to return to school, or the couple looking forward to seeing their grandkids later today. Appearances couldn't begin to capture the truth about Jesus, and the same goes for you and me and every member of the human race.

Tragically, we usually are blind to this, we whom God so loves, and in our sinfulness we dismiss we another. The Epiphany is God's way of telling us to wake up. Jesus was manifested to the Jewish shepherds by an angel and then to the Gentile magi thanks to a star and the guidance of the chief priests and scribes. Thus, not only the chosen people were included but also the Gentiles, who encompassed everyone else on the face of the earth.

In this, God is telling us that categories matter not a whit to him, whether Jew or Gentile or anything else. And so there is no truth to the categories by which we humans define ourselves. When a dark-skinned baby named Tamir Rice was born in Cleveland in 2002, God was delighted. When my niece Emma was born that same year, her lighter color didn't make her more loved by God or less.

God wants us to shelter a Syrian refugee who is Muslim no less than God would have us take in a Christian immigrant from eastern Europe. In God's eyes the baby at risk of abortion is as sacred as the child cutting her first tooth, no matter what the U.S. Supreme Court says.

Though society categorizes the surgeon soon to perform your knee-replacement surgery very differently than a prison inmate, that isn't how God sees things, any more than God would assign more value to the descendant of a Mayflower Pilgrim than to the Guatemalan seeking a better life who crossed the southern U.S. border illegally last week.

It is in the nature of broken, sinful humanity to categorize its members, valuing some much more than others. However, you and I and every other Christian must take a different stance. We must see with the eyes of God, because that's what baptism demands of us.

As persons who know Jesus to be the Son of God, Word made flesh, Prince of Peace, and Savior of the world, let us never forget that Jesus was born into the world for all people and for all people died on the cross. Our love must be as all-encompassing as his. To make this possible, God feeds us with Jesus' Body and Blood. Nourished thus, we dedicate ourselves to proclaiming Christ to all the world, making his love, mercy, compassion, and selfless giving as tangible now as when he walked the earth. Pope Francis has declared this year as a Year of Mercy to challenge us to redouble our efforts to bathe each and every person in Jesus' love, particularly those our world categorizes as inconsequential.

The Epiphany message is that God's love embraces everyone without exception. May our lives demonstrate that this truth has seeped into our very essence.

-December 27, 2015
Is your family perfect? What is the perfect family? Was the Holy Family of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus perfect?

Listening to the Christmas narratives, we can get the impression that all was well for Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus. The Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, is born to the Virgin Mary, angels sing a Gloria, shepherds hear the Good News and come with their little sheep to visit and pay homage, and in a few weeks kings will come from distant lands with expensive gifts.

Wait! Jesus, the Son of God, Second Person of the Trinity, through whom and for whom all things were created, lays aside His divinity (see Philippians 2:6-8) to enter his creation as a helpless little baby. He is born without the assistance of a doctor or nurse, in a dirty, messy, smelly stable with farm animals standing around. Is this how a "perfect family" brings their child into the world? This is, however, how our God chose to enter our world. This is how our God chooses to enter our world.

The life that Jesus entered was and ordinary life like yours or mine. Mary had to change his diapers, feed him, and all the other things that mothers do for their children. Joseph provided a home, food, and protection for them. It was Joseph who was warned by an angel, in the middle of the night, that Jesus was in danger from Herod. It was Joseph who had to wake Mary and Jesus up that night and tell them that the family was moving. As a family they immigrated to Egypt, where Joseph would need to find work. Years later, they would return to Nazareth, where once again Joseph would be unemployed for a time.

When Jesus was twelve years old, his parents took him to Jerusalem for the Passover holiday, and accidentally left him behind. They each thought that the other had him; or, maybe he was with one of the cousins in the caravan. Then, three days later when they find him, he asks why it took so long for them to find him. A "perfect family?" But Jesus' answer, that he must be about his Father's business, points out what is so very special about this family. They are dedicated and faithful to God's will. This family is not perfect, but it is holy, set apart from the world for God.

Likewise, Hannah's life is not what one would have called perfect. She is elderly and has no children. When her prayers are answered and she bears a son, she dedicates him to God; she even takes him to the Temple and leaves him there to serve as part of the Temple staff. She gives her son away because of her gratefulness and her faithfulness to God's will. She could not have known that because of her faithfulness and that of her husband, the holiness of her family, Samuel would become a great prophet, the one who would identify and anoint the first kings of Israel.

Our families may not be, and probably are not perfect. They may not even look anything like the "perfect" family. Our birth families are imperfect, broken, dysfunctional; sometimes loving, sometimes not; sometimes lonely and forsaken. We build extended families of friends, coworkers, teammates. Whatever our family looks like, God desires to enter there.

We gather here as family. Saint John reminds us that "we are God's children now." (I John 3:2) We are part of God's family, the Church, brothers and sisters in the Lord. We are called to care for one another, to treat one another with respect. We are still an imperfect family, but a holy family dedicated to God, set aside for God's work.

The family of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus was not perfect; but they were a holy family, dedicated to doing the will of God, set aside for God's work. Mary and Joseph, by their faithfulness and dedication to God, gave Jesus a family in which he could grow in holiness and wisdom, and thus carry out the will of his Father.

God enters our world amidst the messy, smelly chaos of our daily lives, into our imperfect families. Even in that imperfection, do we accept the call to build holy families, loving and caring for one another, dedicated to and set aside for God?

Christ enters an imperfect world, into imperfect families that are called to holiness.

Deacon Bob

-Christmas 2015
Wonderful surprises are something we all love, and that includes stories with surprising turns.

In Cinderella, our beautiful but oppressed heroine weeps at being left behind by her wicked stepmother and two stepsisters, who have gone off to the grand ball at the king's palace. But what a glorious surprise when the fairy godmother appears and transforms the girl's ragged clothes into a beautiful gown, adorns her feet with glass slippers, and provides her with a splendid carriage that once was a pumpkin and noble horses that had been mice!

Christmas reminds us that ours is a God of wonderful surprises. What could be more surprising than for slaves to be made heirs to the King of kings, as we celebrate today? Actually, our faith does teach us that God indeed had an even bigger surprise up his sleeve: that his very Son, the King of kings, would sacrifice his life to save his wayward people.

By his incarnation Jesus smashed the rod of our taskmaster and made us his brothers and sister, heirs in hope of eternal life.

Do you remember Twelve Years a Slave? This 2013 movie recounts the true story of Solomon Northup, born a free black man but kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. The film makes clear the brutality and despair endured by slaves.

What if this slave suddenly had found himself whisked from an existence filled with mortal fear and deprivation to one of royal splendor? What if the Queen of England had chosen to make him a member of her family and numbered him among her heirs? Through Jesus' birth something even greater has been done for us.

Every descendant of Adam and Eve was a Solomon Northup. From of old all humanity had been weighed down beneath the yoke of sin, because the father and mother of us all had turned against their loving Creator. Then we were set free, because one night in a Bethlehem stable a babe was born to Mary, or, as John's gospel tells us, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." By this means our surprising God made us his children and heirs to eternal life-an astounding deed that we could do nothing to deserve.

Jesus Christ, the God-Hero and Prince of Peace, has done far more for us than Cinderella's fairy godmother accomplished for her, or even the prince who made her his bride. Jesus smashed the taskmaster's rod, and so it falls on our backs no more, unless we elect to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to him and serve ourselves rather than the Father. Because of his mercy Jesus humbled himself to share in our humanity and set us free.

Christmas reminds us that our nature now is united to God in Christ. No longer are we slaves cowering in fear and dwelling in gloom, for Jesus, "the light of the human race," has dispelled the darkness in which all people once walked, a light that darkness cannot overcome. "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!" So that old Negro spiritual cries out in praise for leaving sin behind.

Once upon a time, Satan duped humankind into rejecting and crucifying him who made us heirs to eternal life. Though vanquished by our Savior's death and resurrection, the Evil One still labors hard to divide us and to mask the light that illumines our path through this life. The violence, greed, and fear that we see within us and around us fully testify to this.

Filled with the light of the Holy Spirit, the Blessed Virgin Mary said yes to God and later bore his Son. Following her example, let us hold fast to the Father's will and allow the true light of Jesus to shine through in our deeds! God grants us the strength to do so through the baptism that made us Christians, the eucharist that soon will nourish us, the sacrament of reconciliation that celebrates God's mercy, our reliance on daily prayer, and our making use of the Bible.

Free at last, we are slaves no more but heirs, heirs to eternal life, because by becoming flesh and making his dwelling among us, Jesus made us his brothers and sisters. Now our task is to imitate the angel who appeared to the shepherds, by proclaiming to all people the good news of great joy that the Savior has been born for us!

-December 20, 2015
Isn't it breath-taking that the Holy Spirit is so active in the world?

We see this in the life of Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, whom the Vatican announced yesterday will be canonized. This followed the Vatican's recent recognition that in 2008 a man in Brazil experienced a miraculous healing of multiple brain abscesses caused by a viral infection. His wife had appealed to "the saint of the gutters" to intercede for him with God. John Paul II beatified Mother Teresa after the first miracle credited to her intercession, when in 1998 a non-Christian Indian woman was healed of a huge abdominal tumor after some members of the Missionaries of Charity, the order founded by Bl. Mother Teresa, had prayed that she intercede.

All the fanfare was given to Bl. Mother Teresa, but the real actor was the Holy Spirit, who leads and guides the Church. As I mentioned last week, I recently saw a movie about Mother Teresa, entitled The Letters. At one point in the film a journalist named Graham Widdecombe, who is working in India, seeks to interview Mother Teresa in the early 1950s once her ministry among the poor has started to gain public notice. She brushes him off, telling him the she is of no account and that God is the one to whom people should pay attention.

It was the Holy Spirit who prompted Mother Teresa to shift from teaching the children of wealthy Indians to serving the poorest of the poor on India's streets. It was the Holy Spirit who paved the way for her, overcoming every obstacle that interfered with her effort to establish the Missionaries of Charity.

This is the very same Spirit depicted as a mighty wind blowing over the waters in the first creation story in Genesis. The Spirit was the breath blown into the nostrils of the man in the second creation story, the breath that gave him life. The Holy Spirit was active when God manifested himself to Abraham and his descendants and later to Moses and Joshua. The Spirit was given to King David and spoke through Isaiah and his fellow prophets.

The Spirit came upon Jesus at his baptism, inspired his speaking, and empowered him to cast out demons. Imparted to the disciples on the first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit taught them what to say, guided them in decision-making, moved them to preach, and gave them courage in the face of persecution. The Spirit fills the Church today and is conferred upon each of us in baptism, showing us the way and strengthening us in loving service.

How active the Spirit is in our lives! Like Bl. Mother Teresa, let us be quick to recognize this. In Luke's gospel Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit. In today's verses, the Spirit also is busily at work, though quite subtly. When John leaps in the womb of Elizabeth as Mary greets her, this results from his reception of the Spirit, as he and Jesus encounter one another for the first time. The Spirit then fills Elizabeth, because of whom she recognizes that Mary carries the Savior in her womb.

Yet, if someone asked you or me to name the chief characters of this passage, we probably would identify Mary or Elizabeth or possibly John. We likely would overlook the Holy Spirit, but without him, there would have been no Jesus or John. Just as that journalist Graham Widdecombe focused on Mother Teresa rather than seeing how the Spirit was at work, that often is our mistake, too. Without the Holy Spirit's action within us, we could accomplish nothing.

Praise God that we, like Bl. Mother Teresa, allow the Spirit to use us as instruments for spreading God's love and the Good News of Jesus Christ, just as the Blessed Mother did! Hopefully our cooperation with the Holy Spirit will one day bring us a place with God in heaven. Until then, with the grace God grants us through eucharist, let us imitate the mercy, compassion, generosity, and self-sacrifice of Jesus, by always following the Spirit's lead.

-December 13, 2015
Recently I had dinner with an 85-year-old woman I've known all of my life. Mary has terminal cancer, but you'd never know it from her behavior. God has given her deep faith, which she has nurtured by her practice of prayer and reliance on the sacraments. Consequently, in keeping with the message of our reading from the Book of the Prophet Zephaniah, she fears not and isn't discouraged. She indeed sings joyfully, because the Lord is in her midst.

Zephaniah preached to God's people in a dangerous time about 600 years before Jesus' birth. Much of this book directs harsh words at them for their infidelity to God. They will suffer greatly, but today's verses concern the joy that will belong to the remnant whom God has purified and whose enemies he has turned away.

Such joy is God's gift to all of us who, baptized into Christ's cross and resurrection, place our trust in God's mercy. We too know suffering, as does everyone who strives to imitate Jesus, who endured his passion and death on account of his obedience to his Father.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus knows the agony that awaits him as he speaks to the apostles at the Last Supper, yet he promises them they will be blessed with the total joy that is his, a joy no one will take away from them.

How is it possible for us to brim over with a joy nobody can steal from us, no matter the hardship we endure? That's the wonder of God's power at work in us. This power sustained St. Paul while in prison, for it was from behind prison bars that he wrote his Letter to the Philippians. Though he faced mistreatment and the real possibility of death, he nonetheless encourages his readers with these words: "Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! . . . Have no anxiety at all."

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, who lived among the victims of terrible poverty, was known for her joy. She lived joyfully even as she herself endured intense spiritual darkness and a sense of abandonment by God, as depicted in a movie entitled "The Letters," which I just saw at the theater. Joy was one of St. Francis of Assisi's most renowned qualities. The severe pain he endured from a variety of health problems in his final years did not deprive him of this joy. The same joy sustained St. Therese of Lisieux as she lay dying in agony from tuberculosis at the age of 24.

You and I cannot will anxiety away, any more than Teresa, Francis, and Therese could. And there will be days when anxiety gets the best of us and we long for a sense of joy, as was true of all the saints, for we humans are prey to weakness. At such times we resort to prayer and call to mind Jesus' victory over sin and death, which we remember here at this Mass. And we turn to our brothers and sisters in faith, whose confidence in God's presence among us sustains us in our moments of darkness and doubt.

My strength and my courage is the Lord, and he has been my savior," Isaiah proclaims in today's responsorial psalm. God gave strength and courage to John the Baptist, and so he was able to challenge his people to repent, making it possible for them to be counted as wheat to be gathered rather than chaff destined to burn in unquenchable fire.

You and I will count as wheat not chaff by turning from sin, sharing generously and doing good rather than serving ourselves. That was the Baptist's message to such notorious sinners as tax collectors and soldiers. Let us take that message to heart with the grace that is ours in eucharist. God grants us this grace through the sacrament of reconciliation, too, and I hope you will join us for our communal reconciliation service today at 3 p.m.

How is it possible for us to rejoice always? By depending on the loving power of God, which revealed itself in its fullness through our Savior's death and resurrection.

-December 6, 2015
What is to be said about the latest mass killing, in which 14 people were shot dead in San Bernardino, CA? What is to be said about the sentiment, often voiced by some presidential candidates, that immigrants from south of the border aren't welcome, nor are refugees from Syria? In our country there is a conviction in the black community and elsewhere that black men and boys have been and continue to be wrongly slain by police officers. What is to be said about this racial tension?

A certain parable might cast some light. Long ago in Asia there lived an old woman who had a wish. She wished more than anything to see for herself the difference between heaven and hell. The monks in the temple agreed to grant her request. They put a blindfold around her eyes, and said, "First you shall see hell."

When the blindfold was removed, the old woman was standing at the entrance to a great dining hall. The hall was full of round tables, each piled high with the most delicious foods - meats, vegetables, fruits, breads, and desserts of all kinds! The smells that reached her nose were wonderful.

The old woman noticed that, in hell, there were people seated around those round tables. She saw that their bodies were thin, and their faces were gaunt, and creased with frustration. Each person held a spoon. The spoons must have been three feet long! They were so long that the people in hell could reach the food on those platters, but they could not get the food back to their mouths. As the old woman watched, she heard their hungry desperate cries. "I've seen enough," she cried. "Please let me see heaven."

And so again the blindfold was put around her eyes, and the old woman heard, "Now you shall see heaven." When the blindfold was removed, the old woman was confused. For there she stood again, at the entrance to a great dining hall, filled with round tables piled high with the same lavish feast. And again, she saw that there were people sitting just out of arm's reach of the food with those three-foot-long spoons.

But as the old woman looked closer, she noticed that the people in heaven were plump and had rosy, happy faces. As she watched, a joyous sound of laughter filled the air. And soon the old woman was laughing too, for now she understood the difference between heaven and hell for herself. The people in heaven were using those long spoons to feed each other.

In the light of this parable, what is to be said about the issues that divide America is that we must do a much better job feeding each other. This also is the chief thrust of the Year of Mercy that kicks off for the universal Church on Tuesday, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Back in April Pope Francis announced this special Holy Year, in a document entitled The Face of Mercy. Mercy is one of the components of God's holiness, and since we are to be holy as God is holy, it is essential that we practice mercy with each other.

We see in Jesus' words and actions what mercy looks like. He fed the multitude with the loaves and fish, and so we must respond to the hungry. He healed the sick, which means we must be attentive to people afflicted with illness. By imitating Jesus in these things, along with welcoming the stranger, visiting the imprisoned, forgiving offenses, admonishing sinners, patiently bearing with those who wrong us, and praying for others, we will receive a warm welcome at the gates of heaven.

Sinful though we humans are, God never has failed to show us mercy. He constantly responded mercifully when his people Israel turned away from him. We see this in our passage today from Baruch, as the author assures exiled Israel that God is forgiving and will bring them back to the Promised Land. In Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, which he embraced to save us from sin and death, God demonstrated the fullness of his mercy. That we are the beneficiaries of such mercy is the reason we ourselves must show mercy.

Too often our world demonstrates little mercy, Pope Francis points out in The Face of Mercy. Isn't this clear enough in our own land? Here racism is all too evident, we put out the "not welcome" sign to people in foreign lands who are desperate to escape persecution and poverty, and we do little more than wring our hands in the face of the gun violence that claims so many lives. Those on the fringes of society often are most likely to be the ones who are denied mercy. The Pope challenges all the faithful to make an even greater effort to reach out to them, ever alert to the temptation to shrug off their suffering as a problem for someone else to handle.

How might you and I live out mercy in this Holy Year? It might take the form of resisting the impulse to be afraid when we're strolling on the sidewalk and cross paths with several young black male teens going in the other direction. Let us call to mind that skin color is the only way they differ from you and me.

As you encounter a homeless man asking for money, let's not ignore him. Instead, take the time to look at him, ask him what his need is, listen respectfully, and hand him a $5 gift card to Burger King, several of which you carry for that very reason.

We must school ourselves to see with God's eyes the classmate, neighbor, or co-worker we find so troublesome. Perhaps we'll never like that person, but we imitate divine mercy by smiling at him or her and speaking pleasantly, because of the love God has for that individual.

You and your gay neighbor differ in sexual orientation but share a common humanity. This is what we remember, not the small difference that separates us, just as with our Muslim mail deliverer, Mexican-American softball teammate, well-heeled customer, or the Syrian émigré family that has just moved in next door.

You and your spouse are picking your way through a rocky spell in your marriage, and though much remains that leaves you unsettled, you practice mercy, knowing that he or she is trying to respond to your concerns, and vice versa.

An assortment of people each equipped with a three-foot-spoon will starve if everyone seeks only to feed himself or herself, no matter how much food sits before them. Only if they feed one another will they survive and thrive.

Some of the ways St. Therese Parish is looking at observing the Year of Mercy include providing periodic meals for needy and lonely; visiting residents at St. Augustine Manor; reaching out to families caring for elderly loved ones; in Lent holding a parish mission focused on mercy; and educating about mercy.

We have gathered here to remember the mercy God showed us by means of Jesus' cross and resurrection. Shortly we will share in the Body and Blood of Christ, which unite us to him and to all the faithful and strengthen us as we vigilantly await his Second Coming. With the grace God pours upon us through this sacrament, let us do our part to show our broken world the way of mercy.

-November 27, 2015
This First Sunday of Advent has a message for us, and that is: Be prepared for the day of fulfillment.

A baby is born to you and your spouse. In rearing this child, you instruct her in how to go about living. She explores the world around her from the first breath she takes, soaking up words and sights and sounds and how things feel and taste. You teach your child how to take care of herself, send her to school to learn, help her to find her first job as a high school teen, encourage her to consider her future, and do your best to equip her for it. As she grows up, don't you her parents help her to understand that life has a goal? Our purpose is not simply to live day to day, to survive.

What then is our purpose? To be prepared for the day of fulfillment; in other words, the day when Jesus comes again.

Your daughter has to eat, but eating isn't what we live for. She has to support herself, but success in our job isn't what we live for. She needs family and friends, but such relationships aren't our goal in life. You want her to be safe and secure, but these don't guarantee happiness.

For Jesus gave away his food. He abandoned his carpentry work to preach for free and as a preacher endured mostly rejection. In the end was abandoned by his friends. And he turned his back on the way of safety and security, not just by embracing his cross but beginning at least when he entered upon his public ministry with his baptism in the Jordan and even when he took on our humanity with his conception in Mary's womb.

Our Savior came into this world as a helpless baby 2,000 years ago. Upon his resurrection and ascension he sent his Holy Spirit to guide us in preparing for that day-the day of fulfillment when he returns in glory. As St. Paul points out in our second reading, that preparation involves conducting ourselves to please God.

Pleasing God is our purpose as we go to school, settle on a career, apply ourselves at our job, share our lives with family and friends, raise the next generation, grow gray and feeble, and handle the troubles these passages through life bring. "For you I wait all the day," the psalmist sings in our responsorial psalm. The form such waiting takes is a way of life that pleases God.

Therefore, we avoid like the plague life the things that Luke warns us against: self-indulgence, as represented by carousing and drunkenness, and surrender to the anxieties of daily.

The whole earth awaits the day of fulfillment, as Luke indicates through the imagery of the agitated sun, moon, stars, and sea. As we likewise wait, let us keep our minds and spirits fixed on pleasing God. Because we are weak and sinful, let us rely on the grace imparted to us through those awesome gifts of the sacraments and prayer.

Using that grace, we shall do our part to transform the world into a place of peace, justice, and love, as we share our faith, practice patience, do small acts of kindness, and reach out to those around us who are suffering.

-November 20, 2015
Alexander the Great did it, and so did Genghis Khan. The same was true of England's Henry V and Charles I of Spain.

What these kings did was conquer. Three centuries before Jesus, Alexander the Great conquered a huge swath of lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea. In the 13th century Genghis Khan led his Mongols in overwhelming many other nations. Henry V of England conquered France in the 15th century. Charles I grabbed control of much of the Americas from the native peoples in the 16th century.

Such conquest brought untold suffering, but conquest doesn't have to be a bad thing, as we see in the Feast of Christ the King, for to conquer by divine love is our divine King's goal. And we are his foot soldiers.

Satan had humanity by the throat. He held sway through lies and death, evil and injustice, hatred and violence. Therefore, Jesus came into the world to conquer the Evil One and establish a kingdom of truth and life, holiness and grace, justice, love, and peace, as we are told in today's preface to the Eucharistic prayer.

Our Savior conquered sin by shedding his blood, we hear in our reading from the Book of Revelation, while today's verses from John's gospel remind us that the weapon he wielded was truth. He spoke the truth about his Father's love and mercy and showed us how to conquer by means of them.

The bloody and horrific deeds by terrorists in recent days speak of the continuing threat of violence, hatred, and lies. So do our nation's sad record of refusing refugees, the violence we humans commit against the earth, and much more that Christ the King would have us resist.

You and I must say no to the lies that tell us bullets and bombs, angry words and vengeance are the instruments that will enable us to conquer those who stand against us. Such weapons assure us of failure.

Christ's kingship shall not be destroyed, so the Book of Daniel assures us. No matter how hard it tries, evil cannot prevail against that kingship or against the Church, Christ's Body on earth.

With the strength God gives us through eucharist and prayer, let us, Christ the King's foot soldiers, follow his lead by conquering through love, the love that he demonstrated on the cross.

-November 13, 2015

-November 8, 2015
You and I are living at the end of the ages.

According to our passage from the Letter to the Hebrews, the world has been living at the end of the ages since Jesus sacrificed himself to take away sin. That moment changed everything.

At that moment sin was vanquished by means of Jesus' cross. Sin's end is coming, and that day will dawn when our Redeemer appears a second time to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him. So Hebrews teaches us. We must never relinquish our end-of-the-ages mindset. In other words, it's important that we stay focused on sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, rather than getting distr4acted by the things of this life.

On account of Jesus' sacrifice, for 2000 years sin has been on the defensive. It doesn't always seem that way, for our enemy Satan is determined, but our job is to give him no rest.

This we do by means of our own sacrifices, which we unite with Jesus' unrepeatable sacrifice on Calvary. Each Sunday we bring these sacrifices to Mass and present them with the bread and the wine, praying, in the words the priest says quietly, "With humble spirit and contrite heart, may we be accepted by you, O Lord, and may our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you, Lord God."

Humble in spirit because we know how insignificant we are. Contrite of heart because so often we choose to sin. Even so, our sacrifices are acceptable to God. And what do they consist of?

The patience that, despite your aching head, you show when your little sister or your child or grandchild is pestering you.

Your kindness towards a person who has spoken ill of you, when you could behave vindictively.

The prayer you say for someone who is carrying a heavy burden.

The forgiveness you ask from a neighbor to whom were nasty.

Taking time to listen to and comfort a co-worker who's having marital problems and then sharing with him or her your own experience of God strengthening you in times of trouble.

The good turn you do an elderly person by raking her leaves.

Playing with another child who just moved onto your block and doesn't know anyone.

Providing for the poor, whom those widows in our readings from 1 Kings and Mark represent. God has given us much for the purpose of sharing generously with our marginalized sisters and brothers.

We are to offer such sacrifices along with the bread and the wine, adopting the attitude demonstrated by the widow in Mark's gospel. Out of gratitude for God's boundless love for her, she gave everything she had, not just from her surplus. May we recognize how much we owe God!

Because Jesus died for us and was raised, we find ourselves living at the end of the ages. When the things of this world tempt us to forget this, may we stand strong through the power God grants us in the eucharist, persevering in eagerly awaiting the day when Jesus comes again in glory and brings salvation.

-November 1, 2015
During this time of year horror movies abound on TV. I couldn't resist, so in the last few days I watched the 1978 movie "Halloween" and one of the "Friday the 13th" films. Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees are the evil characters who terrorize and slash teenagers in both of them, and though it seems these monstrous figures are killed, they keep returning to perform their evil deeds.

Neither movie was meant to be a philosophical statement on the ages-old struggle between evil and good. Nor do we ponder such things when small witches, phantoms, vampires, and werewolves knock on our doors on the last day of October and we give them candy, just as we do when Captain America, Spiderman, and Buzz Lightyear come calling.

Still, this great feast of All Saints' Day that we celebrate this evening/morning is a reminder to us that in the struggle between good and evil, which is what history is, we have a role to play. We are to carry on to its completion the battle against evil that Jesus won through his cross and resurrection. As St. Paul indicates in his letters, we are to become what we are-holy. In baptism we were made holy-in other words, saints-and so our task is to live up to this high calling with the grace God lavishes upon us.

"Saint" comes from the Latin word "sanctus", which means holy. St. Paul tells us in his second Letter to the Corinthians that we are to "become the very holiness of God." God commands in the Book of Leviticus, "Be holy as I am holy."

All Saints' Day is an opportunity for us to recall the saints, those joyous and hope-filled models of holy living, and to ask for their prayers. They saw quite clearly that they were soldiers for Christ who were to risk everything out of love for him. In Revelation they are spoken of as "servants of our God", adorned in white robes that they have washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb.

Revelation was written to encourage Christians at risk of persecution by the Romans. These people were threatened with the loss of their property, exile, imprisonment, and even death for following Jesus. They needed reassurance that God's power and love far outmatched the evil pressing against them. Due to Jesus' sacrificial death and their faith in it, they would enjoy eternal life in heaven, where they would wear white robes and hold palm branches-symbols of repentance and victory.

Holiness is ours through baptism and is our purpose in life. We grow in holiness, thanks to the sacraments and prayer, and by means of them God empowers us to defeat evil and contribute to the spread of the Kingdom of God. Let us understand that, in a time when many people desperately search for meaning, it is found by serving God.

In the Beatitudes, which are the focus of today's passage from Matthew's gospel and represent the core of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us what holiness looks like and what battling evil requires. We must depend on God not ourselves, for that is to be poor in spirit. We must mourn and pray about the evil that we do and that our eyes behold in the world.

As people who hunger and thirst for righteousness, we must actively resist that evil. What that looks like is to work for racial harmony, never closing our eyes to bigotry when it shows itself. It is to welcome the refugee and the migrant, as well as the classmate or co-worker we dislike, comfort those who are suffering or afraid or broken-hearted or lonely, and provide for the hungry and homeless. Such hunger for righteousness is to act for change in corporate policies that harm families and damage the environment. It is to press those we have elected to reform our corrupt and broken prison system, to protect the child in the womb, to put the economy at the service of the people, and to use our national riches to improve lives instead of making war.

As people who are meek, we are patient and gentle, not severe or judgmental and strive to give the benefit of the doubt. As peacemakers we seek always to give a peaceful response to any violent word or deed and to encourage peace between those who are at odds. We the merciful forgive injuries, whether by an inconsiderate driver or friend or unkind spouse or son or scheming enemy, and we constantly call to mind that every person is a child of God. Like all who are clean of heart, we give ourselves totally to God, not just a bit here and a bit there, making time and seeing others through his eyes.

As a result, growth in holiness will be ours, God's love and power will be manifested for all to see, and people everywhere will recognize that Jesus Christ alone gives life. Then God will bring us home to see him as he is the heavenly Jerusalem, as fellow saints with all who grew in holiness by fighting evil, like those whose statues grace our sanctuary: the holy Mother of God and Vincent de Paul, Patrick and Anthony of Padua, Cecilia and Francis of Assisi, Therese of Lisieux and the rest whose ranks we pray to join.

-October 25, 2015
It Is Well with My Soul was composed by a man who, like blind Bartimaeus, carried a heavy burden at the time he wrote it. In 1873 Horatio Spafford, a wealthy Chicago lawyer, was about to board a ship bound for a family trip to England. At the last moment, business detained him, but he persuaded his wife Anna to proceed with their travel plans, so she and their four young daughters stayed aboard. A week later he learned that their ship had gone down after colliding with another vessel. His wife had survived but not their children and 258 other souls. Spafford immediately sailed to reunite with Anna, and enroute this devout Christian man wrote this hymn. Despite his unimaginable sorrow, he placed his trust in God.

What we find so challenging is to believe that God will provide when, in our weakness of faith, we just don't see any way out. Our way out is through faith.

Faith is what Linda struggles to hold on to. She just suffered another bout of pneumonia, forcing her to postpone the knee surgery she so badly wants. She's banking on that surgery to grant her better mobility, in the hope so she can qualify for an assisted-living apartment and leave the nursing home she's been in for the past year. She has suffered repeated set-backs in attaining this goal. As a result, she is beset by a sense of despair and at times wonders whether God gives a hoot.

Maybe that was Bartimaeus' plight, too. I imagine that for years he had been begging on the streets of Jericho, all the while praying to God to help him. There was no such thing as eye surgery in those days nor medication to treat eye disease. His support system must have been minimal to non-existent, considering he was reduced to begging. Clearly he had no way out. Except that he had faith, and that's what saved him.

Have you ever heard of Jesus? Bartimaeus had, and Jesus was in reach. Despite the annoyed crowd, the blind man persevered in calling out to him until Jesus responded. The man had faith in Jesus, and that made all the difference.

Brothers and sisters, like Bartimaeus, Horatio Spafford, and Linda, all of us are beggars who plead to God for help. The problem is that frequently we lack faith. As far as everybody in Jericho that day was concerned, there was absolutely no way in this world that a blind man could regain his vision. Except that God has lots more imagination than us. Bartimaeus pinned his hope on God, and God didn't fail him.

So often you and I see no way out of the plight that has befallen us. It is at such times that our faith must save us. I've heard many stories about people who had become totally enslaved to alcohol, whose every effort to master this illness had failed, and then arrived at the point where their only option was to turn to God. When they did, God amazed them by leading them to sobriety.

Bartimaeus was blind no more, but that wasn't the end of the story. He followed Jesus on his way to Jerusalem, where he would suffer and die to save all the world, out of obedience to his Father. We hear nothing more of Bartimaeus, but as a new disciple he likely numbered among those who proclaimed Jesus as Savior and helped others come to faith.

Whether it is vision that God grants or restored mobility or recovery from alcoholism or hope for a child whose parents are divorcing or for somebody whose loved one dies tragically, that divine gift doesn't mark the end of the story. No, God calls on us to use our faith in his service, by sharing it and thus helping others to learn that placing God at the center of their existence is the only way to the fullness of life.

Horatio Spafford and his wife had three more children, two of whom survived to adulthood. In 1881 they moved to Jerusalem, where they founded an organization that performed exemplary philanthropic work in service of the local people, whether they were Christians, Muslims, or Jews.

Faith is our way out, no matter how desperate our plight. Here we are, gathered to strengthen our faith as a community as we participate in eucharist. Some her among us perhaps wrestle with despair over a problem that seems hopeless. May they and all of us go forth from this Mass, renewed in our determination to follow Jesus and eager to share his Good News with the world, confident that because of his death and resurrection it is well with our souls.

-October 18, 2015
In response to James' and John's request that they be given places of authority in the Kingdom, Jesus asks if they can drink from the same cup that He will, and tells them that those who wish to be in authority must live as slaves of everybody. Jesus emphasizes that He came "to give his life for the ransom of many." If we intend to be true disciples, we are called to likewise be servants of all, be willing to make sacrifices for the good of others, and be prepared to suffer for the sake of the Gospel.

Jesus is really shaking things up. For the past few weeks we have been hearing him predict his arrest, torture, and death. Last week he told the rich man to give everything away and then follow Him. Now he is saying if you want to be great be a servant; if you want to be first, be a slave. Be prepared to sacrifice, suffer, and possibly die in order to be a disciple of Jesus.

Being a disciple of Jesus does not mean that life will be easy. It is nice to sometimes think about a relationship with Jesus that is all warm and cuddly; but, that is not the reality of life. Life if messy. Life can be difficult. Life can become a drudgery. Nonetheless, the letter to the Hebrews tells us to "hold fast to our confession" of faith; because in Jesus, the Son of God we have a high-priest who can "sympathize with our weaknesses."

Jesus set aside his divinity to become human like us. He suffered like us. He suffered more than most of us will ever suffer. He suffered not just human temptations, He suffered torture and death at the hands of those He came to save. Jesus, who is God incarnate, suffered like us but also healed the sick. He made the blind see, and the deaf hear. He made those who could not speak sing, and made cripples dance.

Jesus, that letter to the Hebrews says, was "tested in every way," but never sinned. He suffered but never complained. Instead he offers mercy and forgiveness. He offers us his own body and blood to eat and drink for our spiritual health, to strengthen us in our suffering and to withstand temptations. Jesus is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah who "gives his life as an offering for sin" and bears our guilt, paying the price of our salvation.

It is here at the Eucharistic celebration that we "confidently approach the throne of grace" on which Jesus, the Lamb of God, sits as king. Like the high priests of the Old Testament, Jesus made an offering for our sins. But unlike them, this was not an animal sacrifice, it was a human sacrifice. Jesus became the sacrificial Lamb. So He is both high-priest and sacrifice. As the Son of God, His was the perfect sacrifice, which could not be offered by any other high-priest. Only this one sacrifice could set all of humanity free from the slavery of eternal death and suffering.

We are not saved from the pain of suffering. That is still part of the human condition. Temptation still exists. Evil still exists. People can still choose to hate and destroy. But we are offered the grace to love rather than hate, to build rather than destroy, to give life rather than kill. We are people of hope. We hope because God loves the world so much that He sent the Son, who willingly died for us. We who hope in the Lord understand that there is more to life than these mortal bodies. We hope because Jesus lived, died, and rose again. We trust that we will one day rise again with Him. Our hope is strengthened when we acknowledge that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, has already been assumed into heaven to sit with her son. Our hope is strengthened when we gather to celebrate the Eucharist and consume the body and blood of Jesus, which strengthens us to be bearers of hope for a world that is filled with suffering and does not hope.

The psalm that we pray today says it well:
Our soul waits for the Lord,
who is our help and our shield.
May your kindness, O Lord, be upon us
who have put our hope in you.
Lord, let your mercy be on us,
as we place our trust in you.
In the Eucharist, we receive the grace to bring hope to a world filled with suffering.

Deacon Bob

-October 11, 2015
"He went away sad."

Brothers and sisters, when we fall short of what Jesus asks of us, let us indeed be sad, but let us never walk away from him.

Every person here has ample reason to feel sad about disappointing the Lord, because unfortunately we do so all too often. But to walk away from Jesus, that's self-destructive.

Jesus doesn't command the rich man to leave him. I believe there is just one creature in the gospels that he ever orders "begone," and that's Satan. He never sends away even those plotting to do him harm, like certain Pharisees. Our passage from Mark in fact tells us that Jesus looked at the man with many possessions and loved him. As we hear, he has kept the commandments and desires to know the way to eternal life, so this is a good man. Jesus is not angry with him.

He goes away sad because Jesus asks something of him that is extremely difficult and in fact beyond his power. But what if he had stayed with the Lord? If he had clung to him, wouldn't Jesus' word and example have eventually led the man to detach himself from his possessions and attach himself to Jesus?

Recall that when the disciples hear how hard it is for even the rich, whose material blessings typically were looked upon as a sign of God's favor, to enter the kingdom of God, they express shock. "Then who can be saved?" they ask, to which Jesus replies, "All things are possible for God." If only the rich man had stayed with Jesus, trusting that what was impossible for him was possible for Jesus.

In the chapter that precedes today's gospel passage, a man approaches Jesus to plead on behalf of his young son, who is possessed by a demon. Help him if you can, the man says. This leads Jesus to respond, "If you can! Everything is possible to one who has faith," which causes the man to cry out, "I do believe, help my unbelief!" This attitude led to a miraculous healing, while walking away sad on account of Jesus' challenge would have left the man's son in the demon's clutches.

The man with many possessions was a good man with a big problem: He was possessed. I'd say all of us here also are good persons who are possessed. Not in the sense of satanic possession like that boy, since that means to be under Satan's control. Rather, the rich man of our passage is possessed by the things he owns. That's the peril of wealth: It tends to control the one who supposedly controls it.

In other words, the man was attached to his wealth when instead he should have been attached to Jesus. Detachment from wealth is possible, and perhaps this was true of St. Francis of Assisi. He renounced his considerable wealth in favor of voluntary poverty. However, we don't really know how attached or detached he was, and it could have been that he arrived at that point only after lots of struggle.

The rich man of our gospel verses also might have come to that same happy result if only he had stayed with Jesus and allowed him to accomplish what he couldn't do on his own.

Possession or attachment to something other than Jesus afflicts everyone. Though you and I possibly could part with our money and material comforts without batting an eye, something else might control us: the need for approval, alcohol, sexual matters, jealousy, physical appearance, the need to run the show, or hatred for someone or a whole group of people.

Each of us is asked by God to empty ourselves. No human being is exempt, nor was Jesus himself. This is clear a few verses after today's gospel reading, when we hear for the third time Jesus' prediction that he will suffer and die and then be raised.

Shortly before his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemani, Jesus collapses on the ground in profound anguish, pleading with his Father to let him live. At that moment he doesn't look calmly upon the prospect of death. It terrifies him, and like any of us he desperately wants to witness many more sunrises and sunsets. His Father makes it possible for him to take this step of obedience and ultimate sacrifice. Being as human as you and me, if Jesus had relied on himself, he could not have embraced the cross.

The rich man couldn't detach himself from his possessions and walked away from the only person who could've helped him do so. Let us not repeat his mistake. Whatever it is that controls us, that possesses us, only for God is it possible to grant us freedom. For this to happen we must cling to Jesus. And that's why we are in this place right now: to receive the strength that comes to us from Scripture and Eucharist, so that we will attach ourselves to Jesus alone and like him proclaim the Father's boundless love and mercy to the whole world.

-October 4, 2015
"What God has joined together, no human being must separate," Jesus says in our verses today from Mark's gospel.

There's been much debate about the Church's doctrine on divorce. Some people wonder whether Pope Francis' emphasis on the importance of mercy suggests that doctrine will change. This month many bishops from around the world will gather in Rome for the second part of the Synod on the Family, taking up where they left off last year.

"Marriage is forever," Francis has reminded us, adding, "But in our present society, there is a temporary or throwaway culture that has become widespread." Therefore, it seems evident that this teaching will not be changed.

As one high-ranking Church leaders said, Jesus' words on divorce are quite clear, and that's what makes divorce and remarriage such a difficult subject to resolve. The Church has no power to dissolve a sacramental marriage. It seeks to pastorally respond to failed marriages that perhaps never should have taken place and does so by means of the annulment process. However, this process does not break apart a marriage but rather is a formal investigation into the validity of the sacrament to see whether the sacrament actually took place or not.

This bishop went on to say that broken marriage is one of the most painful pastoral issues that the Church has to deal with, but for a Catholic who wishes to remarry in the Church, an annulment remains necessary. That process can prove trying, because it necessitates digging up memories one would prefer to leave undisturbed. It isn't unusual for divorced Catholics to feel that the Church is placing obstacles in their path as they try to find happiness. The Church faces a weighty challenge. It "must remain faithful to Jesus, who plainly stated that those who divorce and remarry commit adultery. So on one hand, the Church is seeking to be as compassionate and helpful as possible to those who would like to move on from a broken marriage, and yet it can't just eliminate the parts of Jesus' teaching that are hardest to live by" {Patriarch Fouad Twal}.

There is much hurt in a lot of marriages, the Pope acknowledges, leading to division between husbands and wives. The suffering experienced affects not only them but also their children. In such situations, how important it is for the couple to hold dear the bond of marriage, Pope Francis said. Though sometimes the wounds the couple inflicts on each other lead to divorce, he praises the many couples that, sustained by their faith and love for their children, work out their troubles and stay together.

What are couples to do who endure discouragement and weakness, perhaps even infidelity? Entrust yourselves to Jesus, the Pope urges. He is the source of healing by means of the merciful love that pours forth from the cross. This love gives strengths and guides married couples and families to the right path. Pope Francis says, "The love of Christ can restore to spouses the joy of journeying together. This is what marriage is all about: man and woman walking together, wherein the husband helps his wife to become ever more a woman, and wherein the woman has the task of helping her husband to become ever more a man." No marriage is free of disagreements. Life is difficult, and so is marriage.

There are no simple recipes to the reality of failed marriages, the Pope noted. It is essential that couples who have endured divorce realize that they are still a part of the Church and, despite a widespread misunderstanding to the contrary, are not at all excommunicated. We as a community must accept them and encourage them to participate in the Church's life, not keep them at arm's length, for their benefit and also for the benefit of their children. They should grow in their sense of belonging to Christ and to the Church through prayer, listening to the Word of God, coming to Mass, seeing to the Christian education of their children, and acting with charity to the poor.

In The Joy of the Gospel, which he issued two years ago, Pope Francis writes, "The Church is called to be the House of the Father, with doors always wide open. . . . There are no closed doors! . . . Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community. There is a place for everyone, with all their problems." Families that are wounded need our care, the Pope has said, and we are to support them in our faith, because Christ excludes no one from his love.

What about gay marriage? In 2013, while flying back to Rome from the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis said, "If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person?... These persons must never be marginalized and they must be integrated into society."

Yet in these words he said nothing new, for Church teaching is quite clear that all of us are God's children and possess an inviolable human dignity. Our Catechism points out, "The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter." Nevertheless, these words do not negate the Church's teaching that marriage is and can only be the union of one man and one woman.

As one U.S. archbishop explained, the Pope wasn't endorsing same-sex marriage. Rather, his point was that none of us is to pass judgment on someone who is gay and searching in good will for the Lord.

I think this is the bottom line on marriage: When Christians marry "in the Lord," they are transformed into an effective sign of the love of God. Christians do not marry only for themselves; they marry in the Lord in favor of the whole Christian community and of the entire society.

Let us pray for married couples and all families, to assist them in living out this beautiful vocation. Let us also pray for our brothers and sisters who have divorced, that they may have confidence in God's love and mercy and continue to find sustenance in the Church. Finally, Catholics who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender also need our spiritual support.

-September 27, 2015
Have you ever drawn the dreaded "God to jail" card when playing the board game "Monopoly"? While you languish behind bars, your opponents continue to buy up property and purchase hotels, in the effort to bankrupt everyone else and so win the game, by being the last monopolist standing.

The first version of this game was created in 1903. Its purpose was not to celebrate all the business monopolies that exercised so much power in the U.S. economy nor to train children to become future cutthroats in the world of business and finance. A monopoly involves a single business that controls a market, as, for example, Sunoco would be if it were the only oil company, setting whatever price it wanted. This board game's creator, Lizzie Magie Phillips, was opposed to monopolies. She wanted to help people to see how dangerous monopolies are.

Though the author of our reading today from the Letter of James knew nothing about monopolies, I think he would've given Lizzie Magie Phillips a thumb's up. I suspect Pope Francis would, too.

In the passage we heard, St. James is warning the rich members of his Christian community that the wealth that gives them such delight is devouring them and will be the cause of their despair when the Lord returns in glory. That's not because money in itself is evil but because it tends to inspire in us a love for money. Consequently, we become blind to the true reason God created us: to love God and serve him by loving our neighbors. St. James also points out that all too often wealth is generated by means of exploitative practices. Among these would be refusing to pay just wages or polluting the environment.

Pope Francis has spoken very strongly about the responsibility we have, not only as Catholic Christians but also as human beings, no matter what our faith, to help the poor. In Washington, D.C., on Thursday, while addressing the U.S. Congress, he said, "I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope."

On an earlier occasion the Pope said, "The times talk to us of so much poverty in the world and this is a scandal. Poverty in the world is a scandal. In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children, that there are so many children without an education, so many poor persons. Poverty today is a cry."

I doubt that anyone here today is a corporate tycoon controlling a monopoly that rakes in money at the expense of the little gal and guy. But we live in a culture that frequently looks upon such behavior with some admiration.

The poor, Pope Francis lamented Friday in New York City, "are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the consequences of abuse of the environment. These phenomena are part of today's widespread and quietly growing 'culture of waste.'"

Brothers and sisters, we in the U.S. live very comfortably in comparison to the vast majority of humans. Probably every one of us is guilty of waste. You and I most likely could simplify our lives a great deal, using less so that there is enough for the countless millions who have too little.

The Lord with whom we are joined in eucharist calls on us to understand that we will find satisfaction only in him and the way of life he taught us, not in the creature comforts this world offers. Though we need a certain measure of them, beyond this we are to give generously. We Christians are to be the leaven in society; it is our responsibility to do as Jesus did and travel light, so we can better share the Good News.

Let us hear and embrace this message, which St. James emphasizes and Pope Francis strongly advances. Let us pray about it, live it out, and teach it to our children. Let us take to heart the warning Jesus gives in our verses from Mark's gospel that we must disown anything that interferes with our entering into the kingdom of God.

-September 20, 2015

-September 13, 2015

-September 6, 2015

-August 30, 2015

-August 23, 2015
How is it that Peter and the rest of the Twelve stay with Jesus while so many other disciples abandon him? Unlike Peter, those who leave him don't believe that he is life itself.

May every person here have faith that Jesus alone matters because he is the way to the Father.

Let's say you have wealth, a wonderful spouse, children who make you proud, good health, and the respect of all who know you. Then you are financially wiped out, your children all die, you are stricken with a dread disease, your spouse leaves you, and your friends behave like they never knew you.

This might sound familiar to you, since it's the story of that Old Testament figure, Job. He is a good, upright man and can't understand why God has allowed these terrible things to happen to him. Anguished, he struggles with his plight and eventually grows angry with God, demanding an answer. However, Job does not curse God and turn away from him, for his faith, though battered, remains intact.

Many followers leave Jesus and return to their former way of life because, while Peter finds that Jesus has the words of eternal life, they do not. "The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life," Jesus has told them.

Maybe they were drawn to him because they heard about how he changed water into wine. Or it might have been on account of the thousands he fed by multiplying the loaves and fish. He walked on water, so that might have impressed them. He is known to be a healer and to have power over demons. He has fearlessly challenged the religious leaders, whom many have little use for. His message of God's love and mercy is appealing. And a lot of folks had joined the ranks of his disciples.

In other words, Jesus is a winner. Or so they thought. But they've heard about plots on the part of Jesus' enemies to kill him. And that he says he comes from God in heaven is something they find hard to swallow. If the religious leaders get their hands on him, he won't be around to multiply more bread and fish and to heal the sick. Better to place your money on a safer bet.

Peter can't imagine life without Jesus. How about us? May it never be the case for us that we stick with Jesus when we have plenty to eat, a good job, a comfortable retirement, fine health, popularity, and the family we've always dreamed of but abandon him when these things are no more.

Job didn't lose faith. Nor did Peter, and when in his weakness he later denied the Lord, he bitterly regretted it and found forgiveness.

In truth, the desirable things the world offers can't give lasting happiness and satisfaction. Only Jesus does, and may we recognize this and open other people's eyes to this truth, too.

Peter couldn't image life without Jesus. How about us?

-August 16, 2015
Recently I saw the musical, American Idiot. It follows three friends, Johnny, Tunny, and Will, who are nearly 20 and, sick of life in suburbia, long for the big city. Johnny and Tunny make their escape, but Will reluctantly stays behind, because his girlfriend is pregnant. Tunny quickly tires of the attractions they find and enlists in the Army. Johnny, however, loves his new surroundings and all the excitement, including the proverbial wine, women, and song.

All three find plenty of pain. Will ignores his girlfriend and their baby and abandons himself to drinking. Tunny loses a leg and some of his sanity in Iraq. As for Johnny, who is the center of the story, he becomes consumed by drugs, which cost him the girl he loves and nearly claim his life. The friends reunite at the end, much wiser than when they began.

"Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil." So St. Paul writes in his today's verses from his Letter to the Ephesians. Proverbs tells us, "Forsake foolishness that you may live." Our passage from John's gospel also is concerned with the way we Christians live, referring to this eight times, telling us that life is ours because of our connection to Jesus.

Johnny pays no attention to God, instead seeking happiness in the usual ways that lead to destruction. "I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears." We heard these words in our Psalm 34, our responsorial psalm. Seeking the Lord is the way to happiness and true life, as you and I know, for that is why we are here. Nonetheless, every one of us contains a goodly dose of Johnny. Even with many years of Christian living under our belts, it is easy for us to fall prey to the foolishness we see all around us in the world.

"Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity." Alcohol and drugs and heedless sex hold a featured role in American Idiot, and St. Paul expresses a concern that Christians are as susceptible to such dangers as everyone else. Against us the Evil One uses these, the consumerism that is central to the American way of life, and so much more that appeals to our sinful inclinations, in order to make us careless in how we live and blind to our opportunities to serve God.

Let us demonstrate that we are wise not foolish by remaining in Jesus, whose Eucharistic flesh and blood give us life. If we want to live, we must seek him, and so we have gathered here together as God's people. In Proverbs, Wisdom sends her maidens out to call everyone to eat of her food and drink of her wine, that they may be wise. God, who loves every one of his human children, sends us out to undertake the same work, so that all may receive the gift of eternal life. Having found life in Christ, let us lead others to it.

-August 9, 2015
"Get up and eat!" Elijah has been walking through the desert for an entire day, trying to stay ahead of Queen Jezebel's assassins. Earlier in the story, he challenged her prophets, worshipers of Baal, to a contest and won. Now she wants him dead. He wanders into the desert to escape, but after an entire night and day of running, he is tired, he has had enough. He lies down under a "broom tree" and waits to die. It is not a tree that will give much shade. It is a tree that looks pretty dead except when rain comes and fills the dry stream it is in. Imagine those cowboy movies where there is a dead tree in the middle of the desert, and the hero collapses there apparently unable to go any further, his canteen empty and no help in sight.

So Elijah says to God, "Just let me die. I'm a failure. I have not been able to accomplish my mission. I cannot run any more. Just let me die." And Elijah lies down under this spindly tree and falls asleep, praying that he will not wake up. But he does wake up. An angel, a spiritual messenger from God tells him "Get up and eat." Twice, Elijah wakes up and finds some scones and water to eat. He must continue his journey. His mission is not complete. He does not even know at this point what the ultimate mission is. Nonetheless, Elijah gets up, eats, and starts walking toward Mount Horeb, also known as Mount Sinai, where Moses encountered God. It is a wonderful story, and you can find the entire story in Chapters 18 and 19 of the book First Kings in the Old Testament.

You and I are probably not prophets of the same caliber as Elijah; but, we who are baptized are indeed anointed prophets who deliver God's message. Our mission may not be to stand up against Queen Jezebel and her prophets, but we do have our own individual prophets of Baal to overcome: those voices that tell us our personal value depends on how much money we earn, or what kind of car we drive, or how many Facebook friends we have. No, your personal value lies in your identity as an individual child of God, redeemed by Jesus, and filled with the Holy Spirit.

Each of us has our own unique prophetic mission in life. That mission might be as a priest, or a deacon, or a religious sister or brother. It might be that your Christian mission is to be a good parent, or a good child, a good teacher or a good student. You might be called to bring the Gospel to your patients as a medical professional. Whatever we do, wherever we find ourselves, we have a prophetic mission to proclaim the Gospel message of Jesus by our words and our actions. We are meant to support and encourage one another on our journey. That is not always easy. Sometimes it is downright difficult; because of our own internal struggle with depression or ill health or and addiction, or because of resistance offered by the world around us. And we cannot say that we are not called; Jesus says that no one can come to him unless they are called by the Father. If you are here, you have been called.

Like Elijah, we can feel like we are walking alone through the desert, trying to just get away. Tired and thirsty we can simply want to give up. I've had enough. I cannot go on. An angel brought Elijah some bread and a bottle of water. Enough for him to continue his journey toward a distant mountain. Sometimes our mountain can seem too far away; even appearing to move farther away the longer we walk toward it. But we are given bread far more nourishing than the small cakes Elijah gets. Jesus himself offers His own flesh to us as food for our journey to the mountain. Here, in this place, we are somehow brought close to the mountain and offered the body of Christ, true man and also true God, to satisfy our spiritual hunger; and we are offered His blood to satisfy our thirst.

This is the spiritual food that gives us strength to get through the next week. This is the food that helps parents give of themselves for the good of their children. This is the bread that enables husband and wife to find ways to sacrifice themselves for one another. This is the drink that strengthens each of us to withstand the forces of evil that would drive us to abandon hope. Here at this table we share in a meal that not only gives us nourishment but transforms us into the Body of Christ in the world. This is a meal that connects us more and more intimately with God, and with one another as members of that One Body. We leave this place together, strengthened by consuming the Body and Blood of our Savior and God. We journey together toward the mountain of God.

Like Elijah, we are on a difficult journey through a desert, to the top of the mountain of God, in a battle with our own "prophets of Baal," but we are given the Bread of Life, the very body and blood of Christ to strengthen us for our journey.

Deacon Bob

-August 2, 2015
The crowd, having been fed by Jesus when he multiplied the loaves and fish, came looking for him, we are told in John's gospel. Looking is something we often are about. Ultimately, aren't we looking for truth, for fulfillment, for peace-for God?

In Greek mythology, Jason and the Argonauts go looking for the Golden Fleece, the golden hide of a very special ram. Jason must bring it back in order to gain his rightful throne. In the legend of King Arthur, Sir Percival heads off on a quest for the Holy Grail. It is said that the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon searched for the Fountain of Youth, leading an expedition to present-day Florida.

In 1866 David Livingstone, explorer and medical missionary, goes looking deep in the jungles of east Africa for the source of the Nile River. He isn't heard from in six years, and so a journalist named Henry Morton Stanley is sent looking for him by the New York Herald. At last finding him, he utters those famous words, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"

Often in fictional stories and in history, the hero finds what he's looking for but in the end suffers terrible disappointment, or frustrated failure is the reward she gets for her search. Livingstone failed to discover the source of the Nile, and no fountain of youth has yet been found. Despite bringing back the Golden Fleece and taking his seat on his throne, in his old age Jason dies lonely, broken, and impoverished. Young Percival succeeds in his quest, only to die shortly thereafter.

A modern-day Jason might invest all his talents and energy in building a successful business. In the hunt for eternal youth, somebody else devotes herself to a healthy lifestyle, exercising, eating right, and getting enough sleep. A classmate of yours finds fame in the jazz world, while another rises to the rank of four-star general in the military. Your best friend has just gained the Holy Grail, retiring from his civil service job at age 58 with a comfortable pension and good health insurance coverage, with kids all grown and settled into good careers, and with plans to travel extensively with his wife.

When you're hungry, contentment is having enough to eat, which is why the crowd wanted more bread from Jesus. He tells them earthly bread won't satisfy them, and the same goes for us. It's part of life to ever be looking for those things we are sure will bring us contentment. However, even when we gain them, we remain unfulfilled.

Recall that in chapter one of John's gospel, Andrew and a companion walked after Jesus when John the Baptist pointed him out to them, calling him the Lamb of God. Spotting them, Jesus asked the pair what they were looking for and invited them to stay with him for the day. They did, and the next day Andrew rushed to find his brother Simon Peter to tell him he'd found the Messiah.

Though John the Baptist had much to offer his followers, among them Andrew, he knew that true fulfillment could be found only in Jesus. This is what Jesus himself promises in today's gospel verses, just as we hear him say in Matthew, "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest."

Put away the old self and put on the new self, Paul teaches us in his Letter to the Ephesians. The old self includes our reliance on worldly things to bring happiness. The crowd clamoring for more bread from Jesus would be hungry again the next day, and similarly, the successful careers and youthful bodies and comfortable retirements we are told make for happiness inevitably will disappoint us.

Happiness, contentment, and fulfillment come only from God, which is why he gave Jesus to the world. As John the Baptist pointed out Jesus to Andrew, who in turn led his brother to the Lord, it is our work to lead others to him. First, however, we must discover that he alone is the one we've been looking for.

Are we looking in the wrong place for truth, for fulfillment, for peace? God is the object of our quest, and in Scripture and eucharist God pours his riches upon us, as he rained manna upon the Israelites in the desert. Let us open our hearts to this treasure and guide our brothers and sisters everywhere to the life that in the person of Jesus Christ has been given to the world by the Father.

-July 26, 2015

-July 19, 2015
Like a good shepherd, Jesus is there! (sung to melody of State Farm Insurance jingle) It's not theologically correct, because Jesus is the Good Shepherd; but you'll remember it!

There are many insurance companies telling us that when a catastrophe strikes, when a tree falls on our house or our brand new car is destroyed in an accident, they are there for us. There are food companies assuring us that if we eat their products we will be healthier. Every auto manufacturer wants us to believe that if we drive the vehicle that they sell we will be happier. There are websites that will find you the perfect marriage partner. Each of them is a shepherd offering to lead us to a greener, more satisfying pasture. But we can really only follow one shepherd. There is only One who can provide real, lasting happiness and security.

Around 600 BC, the prophet Jeremiah had a lot to preach about: corrupt government, unethical businessmen, and self-serving religious leaders. But he held onto the promise that God would provide a leader who would restore David's kingdom. Yes, the people would be scattered by "shepherds who mislead" them; but, God himself will "gather the remnant of the flock."

600 years later, Jesus finds these people who are "like sheep without a shepherd" and is "moved with pity for them." We have heard Jesus refer to himself as the "Good Shepherd." (Jn.10:14) Later, St. Paul writes that we who "once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ," (Eph.2:13) fulfilling Jeremiah's prophecy. We have that Shepherd in Jesus, who remains with us "always, until the end of the age." (Mt.28:20) And, Jeremiah tells us that there are other shepherds "who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble." You and I are called by our baptism and membership in the Body of Christ to shepherd one another. We are called to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, and then draw the straying sheep back to Him by our words, by our example, and by our prayers.

It is not always easy to follow the Shepherd. Nonetheless, as we prayed in today's psalm (Ps.23), "Even though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff." Whatever darkness enters my life, the psalmist says, I know that you are there with your staff to protect me from my demons. Jesus does not say that we will be free from darkness or suffering, but that he is there to stand by our side; and, as long as we put our trust in Him, we can overcome the darkness. Even in moments of personal turmoil, He leads us to "verdant pastures" of spiritual peace. Following Him, we are led to "restful waters" even when we encounter stormy seas. He spreads a banquet table for us to satisfy that deep spiritual hunger that cannot be filled by any earthly pleasure.

In our busy lives, it can be difficult to follow the Shepherd, or even to hear His voice. Jesus invites the apostles to "Come away…to a deserted place and rest a while." We too need to spend time away in a "deserted place" with Him. We can spend some time each week in prayer before Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament. We need to spend time with Him here at Mass every week, to be encouraged by the words of Scripture, and nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ.

Like the apostles, we need to spend time with Jesus in conversation every day. Find a place and a time to get away from the noise of the other shepherds, and the other sheep! Set aside at least a few minutes every day, in a place that may not be quiet, but where you can at least know that you can be alone for those few minutes to pray. Spend some time reading the Scriptures, reflecting on the words and asking for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

There are many false shepherds vying for our attention, sometimes misleading their flock because the shepherds themselves have been misguided. It is for each of us to say "The Lord is my Shepherd: I shall not want."

There are many shepherds calling us; which one do we follow?

Deacon Bob

-July 12, 2015
Like Amos in our first reading and the Twelve in today's passage from Mark, God has given us a job that can be very daunting, that takes us out of our comfort zone. But it's a job that God also equips us to accomplish.

How did Amos feel about the job God gave him? My guess is that he was none too thrilled.

There he was, a man whose life involved leading sheep and tending to fig trees, a life he perhaps was quite comfortable with and that was much like the way his father and grandfather and numerous other ancestors had lived. He was a man of the 8th century B.C., a time less than 200 years after Solomon's kingdom had split in two, with the Kingdom of Israel in the north and the Kingdom of Judah in the south.

God called him to leave his home and familiar way of life in northern Judah and assume the role of prophet in Israel. Since relations between Israel and Judah often were stormy and wars not at all unknown, such a call involved a good deal of risk. Serving as a prophet in Judah would have been hard enough, considering that the divine message prophets delivered often wasn't welcome.

Amos warned Israel's leaders and its wealthy members that God would destroy them. This was the result of their infidelity to the covenant God had made with them at Mount Sinai, after Moses had led them from slavery in Egypt, particularly for their oppression of the poor, their false worship, and their rejection of the prophets God had sent them.

As we heard in the verses from Amos, the priest Amaziah of the temple in Bethel, a very important place of worship, insists that the prophet return to the southern kingdom and cease disturbing the people with his threats. The northern kingdom of Israel ignores God by rejecting Amos, sealing its fate, for in just 25 years Assyria will destroy it.

God empowered this prophet to speak for him a life-giving message. Jesus does the same for the Twelve, whom he has been preparing to send out as his representatives to places he lacks the opportunity to visit. In the first five chapters of Mark, the Lord has gathering his followers. They have witnessed him defeating the power of evil at every turn, as he preaches repentance, casts out demons, and cures the sick. Now they will do the same.

How frightening! Yet, how exhilarating, too! To witness God's power at work in Jesus filled them with awe, and now they were to powerfully serve God in the same way. Would people welcome them? Would they succeed in healing the sick and casting out demons? And what about repentance? Jesus himself had sometimes failed to move others to recognize their sinfulness and to see that changing direction is the only way to find true freedom.

Jesus' disciples do succeed, but just as Jesus knew rejection, as had Amos, that would be their experience, too.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus challenges you and me to persevere in our task of sharing the Good News, despite the necessity that to do so means abandoning our comfort zone. Knowing our weakness, God bestows upon us the power to do so.

In the midst of this work, we ourselves have to heed our Savior's call to repent. Though in baptism we died with Christ and rose with him, and though our union with him and each other is strengthened in eucharist, we remain sinners and must beware of the influence of evil in our lives. Seduced by such evil, Judas betrayed Jesus, while the other eleven ran away, even though they had exercised the power Jesus shared with him.

Repentance never ends. Nor does our work of inviting others to join us in repentance, as we share with them the powerful, redeeming love of God that is ours in Jesus Christ. It is for this that God put us on the earth and formed us into Christians. Therefore, let us be true to our baptismal commitment, confident that God walks with us and that our reward will be great in heaven.

-July 5, 2015
For us who follow Jesus, let there be no line we refuse to cross, knowing that in this we give glory to God.

We must not be deterred even by rejection and ridicule. Every person here has endured them on occasion, as did Jesus. Today's reading from Mark's gospel makes clear that because he allowed his Father to guide his decisions, words, and actions, Jesus suffered rejection at the hands of the people he grew up among.

Such rejection also is evident in an earlier passage, when his family came to forcibly take him home with them because the way of life he had chosen suggested to them that he was out of his mind. After all, even today it is considered odd to leave your town and your livelihood to become a wandering preacher, and this was even more the case in Jesus' time and culture.

The treatment given him by the people of Nazareth and his relatives must have been more painful than what already had been dished out to him by some of the scribes and Pharisees, who considered him their enemy. Before Jesus' death even his disciples end up contributing to his rejection, when one of them betrays him, the others run away, and Peter denies knowing him.

God certainly does ask very difficult things of us. All of us want to be accepted, and perhaps that's especially true if you're a young person of 12 or 16 or 20. The pressure to go along with the crowd can be terribly hard to resist. Though our culture is blessed in countless ways, it also is marred. What Jesus teaches us clashes with its materialism, scorn towards the marginalized, practice of abortion and capital punishment, glorification of sex and violence, and win-at-any-cost attitude.

God asked Jesus, as he had done with Ezekiel and all the other prophets, to speak challenging words to the Chosen People. Though chosen, they were hard of face and obstinate of heart, according to our first reading. Jesus was too lenient towards sinners, some of the leaders believed. The way he identified himself so closely with God scandalized them, and they resented what to them was a very lax approach to the scriptural laws that guided their faith.

In baptism you and I were given the job of carrying on Jesus' mission, which means that we must allow God to guide our decisions, words, and actions, even though this will antagonize many people. Whatever God asks of us, whatever lines he requires us to cross, let us cooperate.

When chastised by God for persecuting Christians, Paul did an about-face, even though it meant that his former friends would try to kill him. Francis of Assisi faced a good deal of ridicule from a certain faction of his neighbors when he rejected his considerable wealth and adopted a life of poverty and begging. Imagine how people questioned Dolores Hart's sanity when in 1964 this movie star gave up the glamor of Hollywood to become a nun. Franz Jagerstatter's conscientious objection to serving in the German army during World War II led to his imprisonment and beheading as a traitor. He stuck with his convictions, even when his bishop counseled him that, out of concern for his wife and young children, he should do what the Nazis required.

Yes, sometimes ridicule, rejection, and other forms of suffering will be our lot for walking in Jesus' footsteps. At those times let us remember St. Paul's words in our second reading, that in our weakness God makes us strong. For the sake of Christ, let us be content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, and persecutions, always relying on the strength that is ours through eucharist, penance, daily prayer, and the Bible.

-June 28, 2015
"Though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich."

One who is divine is immeasurably rich, for such a being lacks nothing, right? Imagine, then, surrendering such a state to take on human flesh, an incredibly needy condition.

Only boundless love would lead to such an event. This is the love that God has for us, his human children, and it's the love Jesus empowers you and me to live out today.

We humans are like helpless babies for whom God provides tender care. Humankind has never been without God's love, but, on account of our brokenness, learning to love as God loves proved beyond us. For that reason Jesus, the rich one, became poor.

We can compare our situation with the tragedy that befell 18-year-old Maria Murillo last Saturday in the South American country of Colombia. The small plane she was in with her months-old son Yudier crashed in remote jungle. Miraculously, the two of them survived, though the pilot was killed. For four days Maria wandered lost in the jungle, carrying and caring for her helpless baby. His well-being must have been her overriding concern, and certainly she did everything in her power to ensure that he lived. At last rescuers found them and brought them to safety.

Human existence was doomed, like a plane crashing into the ground. God saved us from sin and death by means of his Son, who carried us and tended to us through his teaching and example. We see the full extent of God's love for us in Jesus' cross and resurrection. God so embraced poverty that dying for his children wasn't asking too much.

God rescued us and calls on us to pass it forward. We are to express our gratitude to God by rescuing his human children who are suffering. There are a lot of Maria and Yudier Murillos among us, brothers and sisters of ours who are enduring one form of plane crash or another.

In our second reading passing it forward is what St. Paul is asking of the Christians in Corinth. Though they face their own struggles, the poverty and problems endured by the Christians in Jerusalem are much worse. Paul urges them to give from their surplus, small though it may be, to help their hurting brothers and sisters.

At the bottom of the Apostle's appeal is that they should remember how God's Son stripped himself of divine riches to assume human poverty, including the cross. My friends, let us not shy away from following our Savior's example.

Doing so takes the form of spiritual and material giving. We are to help the families of those nine people killed last week in a Charleston, SC, church by our prayers. In addition, we must care tenderly for them by resolving to cultivate peace in our hearts. Let us care tenderly for them as well by striving to make Garfield Heights a kinder, gentler community.

Such tender care also should include determined efforts to free our nation from the terrible violence that afflicts it, by calling on those representing us in Washington to work towards this end. May we ask ourselves in what way we can give from our material abundance to ease the burden of our brothers and sisters who have too little.

By passing forward in such ways God's love that has been poured upon us, what an incredible blessing will be ours! For God will bestow upon us riches beyond compare by granting us eternal life, which soon we will taste in a small way as we share in Jesus' Body and Blood.
-June 21, 2015
"Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?"

As we hear in today's passage from Mark, Jesus' question to his disciples onboard the squall-tossed boat teaches that if their faith in Jesus had been complete, it would have withstood every terror.

Though on that day Peter lacked that sort of faith, some 35 years later he did not. He faced crucifixion at the hands of Rome and in the days following his arrest must have done all he could to prepare his fellow Christians in Rome for his death. The prospect of losing him must have seemed a cataclysm to them. Surely Peter must have told them to place their faith in God and fear nothing, as Jesus had taught the disciples in the boat that day.

We are challenged to trust that God knows what he is about and to have faith in him, no matter what evil confronts us. Yet, because of our weak faith, we fall prey to the suspicion that God is asleep and paying no mind to the crises that threaten to destroy us. So Job believed until challenged by God, who in our first reading reminds him of the invincible power God wields.

"Even the hairs on your head have been counted," Jesus says in Luke's gospel, so we can be certain that God knows all that's happening in our lives. Having faith means that we entrust all our problems to God, out of certainty that we're safe in God's care. And so the disciples shouldn't have been terrified. Even if their boat had gone down and all of them drowned, the Father would have preserved them. After all, he preserved Jesus, defeating death by raising him up. He preserved Peter on the day of his crucifixion, and we are confident that he enjoys heavenly life.

When something terrible happens, what are we to do? We definitely should not trust in our own wisdom, or our financial investments, or the wonders of technology, or military might, or even medical science. Rather, we must rely on God. This we can do because we have nurtured our faith through years of prayer, countless encounters with God in eucharist and confession, frequent recourse to the Bible, and the intercession of the Blessed Mother and all the saints. Thus strengthened, we persevere in loving, Christian service.

Unable to stand idly by as the Nazis slaughtered her Jewish neighbors, Irene Sendler, a young Polish Catholic and wife, put her life on the line as she helped to smuggle 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. All she could do upon being captured was to entrust herself to the Lord as she was tortured and sentenced to die. Thankfully, the Underground smuggled her out of prison. Though crippled by the abuse she endured, Irene survived the war and died seven years ago at 98.

Despair filled the other American soldiers held with Fr. Emil Kapaun in a Chinese P.O.W. camp during the Korean War. With an unshakeable faith, this Army chaplain placed himself in God's hands and continued ministering, by praying, offering Mass, smuggling food and medicine, and reinforcing the men's morale. He persevered in this way, despite the abuse heaped upon by the guards, until he died of malnutrition and disease.

Archbishop Oscar Romero, Sr. Dorothy Kazel of Cleveland, and three other women missionaries from the U.S., and hundreds of unsung Salvadoran Catholic catechists and other church workers persevered in serving the people of El Salvador and were murdered by the Salvadoran's U.S.-supported government during that country's civil war in the 1980s. They relied on God, as Jesus did when crucified, and victory is theirs.

On Wednesday nine people were slain on account of their race while engaged in a Bible study at a Charleston, SC, church, and now their grieving families forgive the killer, because their Christian faith requires this.

The faith we place in God is that ultimately no evil can snatch union with God from us. Yes, the enemy can deprive us of material comforts, companionship, liberty, and life, as has happened to countless disciples and still does today. This befell those nine believers in that Charleston church and at this moment is the lot of many Christians in Syria, Iraq, and other lands where persecution is rampant.

Such persecution poses little threat to you and me, but the day-to-day risks and dangers lurk. That day in the boat it took the form of a squall. For you and me it might be a failing marriage, or a diagnosis of cancer, or dread that a company reorganization will cost us our job, or the sudden and heart-wrenching death of a loved one, or fear that soon the trials of taking care of your dementia-stricken parent or spouse will overwhelm you. None of us is exempt from such disasters, nor was Jesus.

Like him, let us have faith in the Father, who loves us and never abandons us. There are times when it seems that God is asleep and we are on our own. However, this is never the case. When suffering gives rise to such suspicions, let us remember that God doesn't promise us physical comfort or a successful career or a long, illness-free life. He promises us something immeasurably greater: his love, which nothing can rob us of, and the happiness in this life that comes from serving him, followed by eternal happiness in the life to come.

Through the Church God provides us with the necessary gifts to build us up, namely, the sacraments, prayer, the Bible, and companions in faith. Soon we will share in eucharist, the greatest gift of all, which forms us in Jesus' image, binds us to God and each other, refreshes us with God's mercy, and feeds us so that we can go forth to proclaim to the world the salvation Jesus Christ won for all by means of his death and resurrection.

-June 14, 2015
We heard recently about the disciples of Jesus, after His arrest and crucifixion, hiding behind locked doors in the upper room. Their expectations had been crushed, and now they saw that their lives might be in danger. Then Jesus appeared to them; and the next day, walking by their faith, they went out into the streets and began preaching to the crowds on the first Pentecost.

Days later, St. Stephen was dragged out of the city because he had been preaching about Jesus. What he could see humanly was that he was in trouble. If he did not stop talking he would be stoned to death. But in faith he could stand before his executioners and say that he saw Jesus standing at the throne of God.

If we trust in only what we see, then we are in sad shape. We are inundated with news of financial failures, violence in our streets, and rampant corporate and political corruption. We may ourselves be affected by these large-scale evils. We may personally suffer from such difficulties as poor health, financial insecurity, or an abusive relationship; the list is endless. If we rely only on what we can see, life can seem hopeless; but, we are called to walk not by sight, but by faith. Our faith sheds a new light on our situation. As St. Paul says, we long to be with God in our heavenly homeland. Meanwhile, we work to build the Kingdom of God here on Earth.

The seed of faith is planted in us in Baptism. Like the Ezekiel’s cedar shoot, or Jesus’ mustard seed, this seed of faith grows only because of the grace of God. Like a flower, we cannot force it to grow, but our attention is needed. This faith needs to be fed and weeded. It needs water and sunshine. We feed it by reading and listening to the Word of God, and by receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus in Holy Communion. We nurture it by gathering here with the community of believers to worship and give thanks to God. We weed out the seeds of sin with the aid of spiritual direction and the sacrament of Reconciliation. God provides what is needed, often through the Church and through one another.

That cedar shoot is meant to grow into a new cedar tree; the wheat seed is meant to grow into new wheat; and the mustard seed is meant to grow into a mustard tree. If they do not, then they die. Likewise, this seed of faith is meant to grow and bear fruit. If the seed of faith planted in us does not grow, then we will die spiritually. If we do not properly care for our spiritual garden through spiritual reading, the sacraments, and daily prayer, we will not bear the proper fruit.

The fruit that a plant produces is not for the benefit of the plant itself. The fruit is meant to nourish someone else. Likewise, the fruit of my faith life is not for my own benefit, but for the benefit of others. But in giving to others, I also receive, because I cannot give anything that I have not received from God.

What is this fruit that we are to produce? We talk often enough about the Gifts of the Holy Spirit—Wisdom, Knowledge, Understanding, etc. We seldom hear about the Fruits of the Spirit. St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians (5:22–23) that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” When we remember to walk with the eyes of faith, these fruits will become manifest in our lives. We will begin to sow love instead of hatred. We will bring people joy instead of sorrow. We will learn to model patience with impatient people.

Also, practicing the fruits of the Spirit will soften the soil around the seed of faith planted in us to soak up the grace rained on it by God. We can practice generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. A cycle will begin to emerge as the soil of our heart is softened and the grace to increase the fruit of our faith soaks in.

We are branches on the vine that is Jesus, called to bear spiritual fruit and build up the Kingdom of God. Each of us is called to walk by faith, not by sight. The married couple who walk by faith see that what they share with one another is God’s love. The nurse who walk by faith sees that she shares in God’s mission of healing. The accountant who walks by faith is helping people to be good steward’s of God’s gifts.

Like those disciples in the upper room we have a choice: we can walk by sight, fearful of life; or, we can walk by faith, bearing spiritual fruit for the Kingdom of God.
Do I walk by faith, bearing fruit for the building up of God’s Kingdom?

May God’s grace bear fruit in your life,
Deacon Bob

-June 07, 2015
Keeping your word isn’t always the easiest of things. Temptation can set in and lead a person astray.

In that great 1948 film The Treasure of Sierra Madre, Humphrey Bogart plays Fred Dobbs, an American down on his luck in 1920s Mexico. He crosses paths with another American, Bob Curtin, and learning that there’s gold in the Sierra Madre Mountains, they shake hands and agree to prospect for it together and divide their find evenly. However, by the end of the film Dobbs has double-crossed his partner, shooting him and making off with all the gold.

Keeping your word isn’t always the easiest of things. Having help with that can come in handy, to lend us strength against temptation. That’s one reason why taking part in eucharist every Sunday is so important, because we have a promise to God we must keep.

We entered into a covenant with God through baptism. A covenant is solemn agreement--a promise of a very serious nature. It’s something every one of today’s readings speaks about. God entered into a covenant with Abraham that was marked by a sacred ritual involving animal sacrifice. God promised to provide Abraham with many descendants and a land of their own, while Abraham promised to worship God.

Centuries later, after liberating the Israelites, Abraham’s people, from slavery in Egypt, God made a covenant with them, too, through Moses: He would protect them and enable them to prosper, and they would worship and obey him. As we see in our passage from Exodus, it was sealed through animal sacrifice and the sprinkling of blood.

Though Abraham proved faithful to his covenant with God, the Israelites weren’t as honorable, and punishment ensued. Dathan and Abiram were swallowed by an earthquake for rebelling against God’s spokesman, Moses. After settling in Canaan, the Israelites suffered at the hands of their enemies, including exile from their land, on account of their violating the covenant.

Because heeding the covenant was beyond his people’s ability, God established a new covenant through the blood of his Son. Blood represents the essence of life. In ancient times, unity of God with his people was signified by the pouring of a sacrificial animal’s blood on the altar, which symbolized God, and on the people. Plentiful herds and crops demonstrated God’s fidelity to the covenant, and the people offered God animal and grain sacrifices as gifts of thanks and signs of worship. Sacrifices involving the burning of part of the animal as an offering to God and the eating of the rest of it by the people served as a symbol of friendship, as with the Pilgrims and Indians when they shared together in their Thanksgiving feast in 1621.

The flesh and blood of sacrificial lambs, goats, and bulls bulls proved inadequate. Therefore, Jesus, the Lamb of God, established an unbreakable union between God and his people by sacrificing his own body on the cross. The outpouring of his blood signifies that unity. We drink his Blood, instead of being sprinkled with it as the ancient Israelites were sprinkled with bulls’ blood in our first reading. Like the burning of part of the sacrificial animal for God and the people’s consumption of the rest did in ages past, we share in a friendship meal with God by eating Jesus’ Body.

The Israelites of old also sacrificed animals to beg God for deliverance from sin, which is the context of our passage from the Letter to the Hebrews. While those sacrifices were insufficient, by the outpouring of his blood, Jesus has cleansed us of sin.

A handshake. This represents a pledge of loyalty between Dobbs and Curtin, but what eventually follows is betrayal, attempted murder, and theft. Flowing blood and a holy meal. Though offered countless times for almost a thousand years by the ancient Israelites, these signs of unity with the Lord also were followed by betrayal, for these sacrifices failed to give them the strength they needed to remain true to their covenant with God.

Only Jesus’ self-sacrifice and his resurrection from the dead have gained for humankind the unity and friendship with God that it had sought for so long.

Dobbs failed to keep his word, just like the Israelites of old. If we’re to honor the covenant God made with us through Jesus’ cross and resurrection and to which we joined ourselves in baptism, it is essential that we come here Sunday after Sunday to take part in eucharist. Keeping our word is no easier for us than it was for ancient Israel, and this sacred meal strengthens us to do this, uniting us with God and reinforcing our unity with God and each other, as we strive to imitate Christ’s love and share the Good News of salvation.

-May 31, 2015
On Thursday I was talking to a man whose excitement at being a grandfather for the second time came through loud and clear. He told me in wonder, “I didn’t think it was possible to love anybody else as much as I love my kids.”

The unified love of this man and his wife gave birth to their children and now has repeated itself in the next generation. The Holy Trinity can be understood as a relationship that functions in a similar way.

We can sum up the Holy Trinity in one word: love. The Father loves the Son. The Son loves the Father. That exchange of overwhelming love is an energy we call the Spirit. This enormous engine of love is a single force that our meager minds can’t begin to understand. Though it is one, it expresses itself in a three-fold way. The Trinity is an all-embracing love that reveals itself as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.

Ancient Christianity described them by using a philosophical term: persons. This has led to some confusion, because you and I don’t view the world as Christian theologians did more than a thousand years ago. The three Persons of the Holy Trinity certainly aren’t persons in the way we recognize each of us to be.

Recently I read that Mt. St. Helens in Washington State is rumbling into life again. I remember the news reports of 35 years ago when this volcano blew its top, killing dozens of people on its slopes and thousands of wild animals and mowing down hundreds of square miles of forest with the super-heated air and molten lava it spewed. No force on earth can contain a volcanic eruption.

That’s how God’s love is, multiplied ten trillion times. The Big Bang that gave birth to the universe 13.8 billion years ago was a manifestation of this love. The pulsing, surging, explosive love flowing between the Father and the Son, a love we call the Spirit, burst forth. The result is evident all around us: supernovas and particles far tinier than atoms, mountains reaching three miles into the sky and trenches descending even farther below the sea, fire ants and giant sloths, hummingbirds and human beings.

As we worship and give praise to the Holy Trinity, let us realize that, as expressions of their love, we fully realize ourselves by loving. How contradictory is the history of the human race, whose members too often visit harm upon each other instead of love and behave similarly towards the rest of creation.

In a way, the Blessed Trinity is a family. Made in God’s image, all of us are family to each other and cry out to God, “Abba, Father!” We who count ourselves as followers of Jesus have been entrusted with the responsibility of sharing the Gospel with those who don’t know the Lord. How important that loving work is, because nothing could be sadder than to be ignorant of God’s love for us, as revealed in our Savior’s death and resurrection.

As God is Creator not destroyer, so let us create, by means of our love, and beat spears into pruning hooks. As God is Redeemer not condemner, let us wipe away tears and forgive, set a feast for our foes and embrace the stranger. As God is Sanctifier not tempter, let us pray for one another and honor each other as children of the same Father, helping every person in our lives to grow in holiness.

-May 24, 2015
“Pass the salt.”

A lot of the time the words we speak don’t contain an important message. On the other hand, they can be a matter of life and death.

“Jump!” If your terrified child is standing at the window of her second-story bedroom as fire consumes your house, that word will save her if it propels her to leap, trusting that you will catch her.

What is the most powerful statement a person can make?

“Jesus is Lord.”

This goes to the very heart of Christianity and our faith as Catholic Christians, for by these three words we profess that Jesus is God himself. This simple statement proclaims that out of love for his sinful, wayward creatures, God became a weak and fallible human, experienced the joys and pains of life in this world, accepted torture and death so that we might live with him forever in heaven, and was raised from the dead.

“Jesus is Lord”: No other message is more profound and testifies more accurately to true life than what these three words tell us.

But to speak them only happens by the Holy Spirit, St. Paul tells us in his First Letter to the Corinthians. This underscores the importance of the Feast of Pentecost, which focuses on the indispensable gift of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon us by God upon the Son’s death, resurrection, and ascension.

Everybody wants to live a meaningful life, and the Holy Spirit is the only one who can guide us in this. Who wants to discover upon dying that they hitched themselves to the wrong star? As St. Paul points out, the Spirit is truth. It is the Spirit who leads us to a deeper knowledge of God. It is the Spirit who enlightens our minds and floods our souls with light.

We humans are designed to yearn for knowledge and truth and light. But we so easily go astray, seeking meaning in the wrong places. The words, “Show me the money!”, don’t lead you or me in the direction of life, though this line captures the human inclination towards seeking satisfaction in material things. In the 1996 movie Jerry Maguire it is spoken to Jerry Maguire, the sports agent that Tom Cruise plays, by the hot NFL receiver Rod Tidwell, played by Cuba Gooding Jr.

The Holy Spirit kindles faith in us so that Jesus can touch us. Jesus enters our lives thanks to baptism, which imparts the Spirit to us so that we can encounter the Lord. Baptism commits us to give witness to Jesus, and the Spirit loosens our tongues and gives us the words we must speak.

According to our passage from the Acts of the Apostles, upon receiving the Holy Spirit the disciples of Jesus began to proclaim Jesus in a medley of tongues. This is saying that the Church’s purpose is to share the Good News with the whole world. Ours is the responsibility to carry on this task today, with the gifts given to us by the same Spirit who inspired Peter, John, and the others who had gathered in that house.

“Jesus is Lord.” Having learned this truth from the Holy Spirit, let us not hesitate to share this most essential message with others, in the power of the Spirit and fed by Jesus’ Body and Blood.

-May 17, 2015
“Proclaim the gospel to every creature.” So Jesus commands his disciples just before he is taken up into heaven.

In the age of discovery, when Columbus planted the flag of Spain in the New World, followed by a variety of Spanish, English, French, and Dutch explorers, all of them claimed the lands they found for their monarchs. They hoped for a great reward from their rulers, and often it was generous indeed.

Great treasure was up for grabs: colonies to be planted to extend the king’s power, gold and silver to be mined, land to be divvied up, and crops to be grown and fish harvested to feed the mother country.

In a similar way there is great treasure that we are to gather for God: human souls. Jesus thirsts for the salvation of every person, for this is why he took on our humanity. Having returned to his Father, which we celebrate on this Feast of the Ascension, he calls on us to be instruments to bring everyone to faith in him. We are to plant the cross wherever we go by bearing witness to Jesus in all we do and say.

Many people followed where Columbus and his fellow explorers led, drawn to a land of great promise. You and I and all our sisters and brothers are to follow where Jesus has gone. Heaven is the land of ultimate promise. It is our destiny to join Jesus there to share in his divinity, because it was for this that he died and was raised.

We are to leave no one behind, but many don’t see the face of Christ to ease their suffering and show them the way. Proclaiming the gospel often involves responding to physical needs, as Jesus did. Loving God is demonstrated by loving those who suffer, and one way to do this is through Catholic Charities.

There is a great treasure in human souls that we are to gather for God. Strengthened by eucharist, let us be about our work. By loving as Jesus loved, we will follow where he has gone.

-May 10, 2015
Love is laying down one’s life for others.

How appropriate today’s readings are for this weekend’s celebration of Mothers Day; because, what we celebrate is our mothers’ love for us. It is often our mother who has been the first, closest, and best example of true self-sacrificing love. So we show our appreciation and our love for those women who have given birth to us, or who have adopted us, and to those women who will soon bring children into the world. We are grateful as well for those women who have been spiritual mothers for us, and who have been examples of maternal love. We Catholics share a mother as well, the one who gave birth to our Savior, who submitted herself totally to the will of God. Mary’s is an example of the love that Jesus talks about in today’s Gospel reading.

This is not romantic movie, fairy tale, feel-good love. This is love that does not seek personal gain, nor consider the cost or the sacrifice needed. It is a totally self-giving, self-sacrificing love. If you want to know what the cost might be, look to the Cross.

This love of which Jesus speaks is not an emotion or a feeling. It is not something that we can conjure up. We are capable of love only “because God has loved us first.” When we truly love one another, it is because we have first received love from God as a grace. We heard today that “God is love,” and that “whoever is without love does not know God.” “Love one another as I love you,” Jesus tells us. Simple in theory; but what about in practice? Love moves us to action.

Jesus tells us what this love looks like. “I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” (Mt 25) St. Paul tells us more about this love. “Love is patient,” kind, not jealous, not pompous, not inflated, not rude, does not seek its own interests, not quick-tempered, doesn’t brood over injury or rejoice over wrongdoing.” (1 Cor 13) These are the tests of our love; and also a way to develop our love. We may find it difficult to truly love someone, but we can begin by being patient with them. We can avoid being rude. We can forgive injury. As St. Therese says, we can “do little things with great love. These are choices we can make that may help us to love. And we can pray that we will love more.

Love is Jesus choosing to lay down His life and die on the Cross for our sins.
Love is Fr. Maximilian Kolbe in a Nazi concentration camp offering to die in the place of a man with a family to care for.
Love is Fr. Damien choosing to stay with the lepers on Molokai to care for them, expecting that he would someday be a leper himself because he stayed.
Love is Mother Theresa of Calcutta serving the poorest of the poor in the slums of India and encouraging others to do the same.
Love is Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection scrubbing the pots and pans in the abbey kitchen.
Love is the single mother who works two jobs so that her daughter can get the best education possible.
Love is the father who sits and watches cartoons with his son, though he would prefer to be watching the Cavs game.
Love is the nurse holding the hand of a dying patient because there is no-one else.
Love is the grand-daughter who listens patiently to grandpa’s stories for what must be the hundredth time.
Love is the 95 year-old homebound woman who spends her days praying for all of us.
Love is the child who helps wash the dishes, straighten up the house.
Love is being patient with the cashier at the grocery store, being polite to the waitress, generous with the beggar.
Love is the Blessed Mother saying yes to God’s invitation without calculating the cost.
Love is Jesus laying aside his Divinity to become one of us.
Love is Jesus, the Son of God, present here in the Blessed Sacrament, giving Himself to us in the form of bread and wine to nourish us for our mission of love.

May you know the Love of God today,
Deacon Bob

-May 3, 2015
Mary, Abraham, Veronica, and Simon: all ancient figures of faith who demonstrate what bearing fruit looks like. Mary, pregnant with Jesus, leaves home to spend three months with her relative, Elizabeth, who also is pregnant and much older. Abraham pleads with the Lord not to destroy Sodom, infamous for its depravity. He convinces God to spare it if just 10 righteous people can be found there, though even that number proves too high. In the sixth Station of the Cross, Veronica offers the tormented Jesus comfort by wiping his face as he carries the cross. And Simon of Cyrene, pulled from the crowd by the soldiers, helps Jesus to carry the cross.

I see before me many a Mary, Abraham, Veronica, and Simon, faith-filled people who remain in Jesus and show this by bearing much fruit.

Sisters and brothers, “remain in” is used six times in today’s passage from John’s gospel, indicating that this is an essential point. It also is used once in our reading from the First Letter of John. The evangelist is saying that to stay connected with Jesus is of the utmost importance, because he is life itself. The imagery of Jesus as the vine and his disciples as branches clearly indicates this. “Without me you can do nothing,” he says.

It seems that John’s community had suffered divisions, with some of its members breaking away because of differences over the divinity of Jesus. Without doubt the problems involving unity within the Christian faith that we see today are nothing new. It’s fair to say that John the Evangelist was of the mind that this break-away element did not remain in Jesus.

What we gather from today’s verses from John’s gospel and 1 John is that loving one another, bearing fruit, and remaining in Jesus are one in the same thing. Without Jesus, we are as good as dead, no matter how alive and kicking we might seem to the rest of the world. That we remain connected with him manifests itself by our loving ways, and if these are absent, then so is our union with him. To say we believe in him isn’t enough; it must be demonstrated by our actions.

Mary, Abraham, Veronica, and Simon bore much fruit by their love, and how inspiring it is to see their modern versions at work among us! I’ve witnessed it in a long-time parishioner welcoming back and encouraging someone who’d been away from the church for many years, as well as in the case of someone who donated a kidney so that another person could live. This fruit is evident when an elderly member of our parish is able to attend Mass because a younger one gives her a ride every Sunday, and in the church members who joined forces the other day to paint John Paul II Academy’s rusting fence.

The single, 30-something aunt who takes in her 14-year-old nephew whose mother is a drug addict demonstrates that she is a branch strongly connected to the vine. So do the husband and wife who have just observed their 50th wedding anniversary, and the family that so lovingly cares for their dementia-stricken parent. This equally is true of folks who forgive the sick and the parents who forgive the man who murdered their son and call on the court not to apply the death penalty.

The newly-converted Paul, whose sinfulness had shown itself so plainly in his persecution of Christians, proved his love for Jesus by so zealously proclaiming him to be the Savior, making enemies who plotted to kill him.

By sharing the gospel message with others and proving our credentials by our loving service , we show ourselves to be the Pauls, Mary’s, Abrahams, Veronicas, and Simons of our day, who remain in Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life.

-April 26, 2015
Abandoned. Fearful. Defeated. Despairing. Overwhelmed. Cheated. These are just some of the feelings that assault World War I flying ace Snoopy. Atop his Sopwith Camel dog house he has just flown over the devastation of no man’s land, littered with the bodies of dead soldiers, scoured of trees by horrific artillery barrages; a truly hellish scene. Back at his base in England, over a mug of root beer he tries to forget these images and the memory of his flying mates who have fallen prey to the cursed Red Baron. Early tomorrow morning he will be out on patrol once again in a war that seems endless.

Charles Schulz, who created Snoopy and the other characters of his comic strip “Peanuts”, had a way of making us laugh at this beagle’s antics and sometimes cry, too. This is a most human dog.

More apropos than a dog today is a sheep, this being Good Shepherd Sunday. On this day we look for guidance and reassurance to the one who says five times in eight verses that he will lay down his life for the sheep.

Abandoned. Fearful. Defeated. Despairing. Overwhelmed. Cheated. When the suffering life brings ensnares us in the barbed wire of these emotions, how easily we are persuaded that we belong nowhere and to no one.

Abandoned might be how you feel, because you’re 10 or 12 and your grandpa just died. Or fearful because you’re graduating and deeply concerned about the job market. Or despairing because your mother is dying and you don’t know how you’ll manage without her. Or bitter because your friend committed suicide, and as hard as life is right now, you’re tempted to do the same. Or defeated because you’re 61 and a seasonal worker, at home most of the time because it’s off-season, managing to get by thanks to your part-time job as a school bus driver, only you just heard you’ll soon be laid off because the school is closing. Or cheated because your loved one is 55 and dying of brain cancer. Or alone because your dad has dementia and the time is swiftly coming when you’ll have to put him in a nursing home, because he’s growing violent. Or depressed because once again you’re in jail due to drugs and alcohol. Or overwhelmed because an earful of news reports tempts you to find a hole to hide in.

Let us then find renewed hope in the reassuring words of our passage from John’s gospel, which tells us that, rather than belonging to no one, we belong to Jesus, the Good Shepherd. “I know mine and mine know me,” he promises us. Equally thrilling is the message of today’s reading from the First Letter of John that we shall be like God and that we shall see him as he is. Another way of expressing this is that, far from belonging nowhere, we belong with God in heaven.

“You are mine, and I have a place for you.” This is what Jesus wants us never to forget, for which reason it’s essential that we, who have been joined to his death and resurrection through baptism, find our way to Mass Sunday after Sunday. Here we are reminded to whom and where we belong, give thanks for God’s boundless love, and go forth with renewed vigor.

My fellow sheep in the one flock of Jesus, with that vigor let us imitate Peter, who boldly proclaims the crucified, risen Christ in our verses from the Acts of the Apostles. There are so many would-be sheep of our flock who consider themselves to belong nowhere and to no one. With them let us share the Good News!

Snoopy is ever intent on shooting down the Red Baron and so doing his bit to end a terrible war. For us, sin, hopelessness, and want are the enemy that must be destroyed, the wolf that threatens to scatter the flock. Always trusting in the Lamb of God’s victory over sin and death, let us persevere in our struggle until he returns in glory.

-April 19, 2015
“Death cannot stop true love. It can only delay it for a little while.”

So says Westley to Buttercup in the 1987 movie The Princess Bride, and so the story of Jesus tells us.

This movie is a fantasy love story. Gentle, beautiful Buttercup lives on her family’s farm in the country of Florin and falls in love with the young hired man working the farm, Westley. He goes off to seek his fortune so they can marry, but his ship is attacked by the Dread Pirate Roberts, who never takes prisoners. Five years later Buttercup has reluctantly agreed to marry Prince Humperdinck, the no-good heir to the throne of Florin. However, outlaws kidnap her before the wedding.

They flee, but a mysterious man in black catches up and, by his wiles and expertise with a sword, defeats them, rescuing Buttercup. When he identifies himself as the Dread Pirate Roberts, she flies into a rage and shoves him down a slope, for he is the man who killed the one she loved. As he falls he calls out to her in an expression that only Westley would know. She hurries after him and, finding him unhurt, listens in amazement as he explains how he assumed the identity of this pirate.

They experience numerous adventures but then fall into the clutches of the evil Prince Humperdinck. Buttercup agrees to proceed with the wedding if Westley is allowed to go free. Humperdinck goes back on his word and has him imprisoned and tortured. When Buttercup discovers the sort of man the prince is, she rejects him, so he has Westley killed. At least so it seems, but Westley revives, once again rescues his beloved, and the film ends with them finally exchanging a passionate kiss.

“Death cannot stop true love. It can only delay it for a little while.” Westley proves these words true by returning five years after supposedly dying at the hands of the Dread Pirate Roberts and then surviving when it seems the prince has killed him.

In this season of Easter the Church celebrates the marvelous truth that death cannot stop true love. Satan influences sinful men to kill Jesus on a cross. He is dead, but we see in our reading from Luke that his Father has raised him, proving that true love conquers evil and bestows eternal life upon all who place their faith in Jesus, God’s only-begotten Son.

You, I, and every baptized person are to bear witness to Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Mass reminds us of this, as we testify in the memorial acclamation after the consecration, “We proclaim your death and profess your resurrection until you come again.” These saving events vanquished sin and death. At Mass God gives us strength to bear witness to Jesus, by means of the word of God that is proclaimed and eucharist that is shared.

Like The Princess Bride, the story of Jesus is a love story, but while the tale of Westley and Buttercup is a fantasy, our Savior’s story is not. A fantasy demands no response from us, but the salvation that is ours thanks to Jesus’ cross and resurrection requires that we act. The witness we see Peter bearing in our verses from the Acts of the Apostles is a lesson to us that we too must share the Good News. If others are to find true life, they need to come to faith in Jesus, and we are the instruments God uses to accomplish this.

“Death cannot stop true love. It can only delay it for a little while.” Because we passionately believe this, let us go forth from here to proclaim Jesus’ death and profess his resurrection until he comes again.

-April 12, 2015
God’s Mercy and Peace endures forever!

At times, it can seem like our world is falling apart, or maybe blowing up. In parts of the world, people are being killed, executed because they are Christian. The Middle East, and elsewhere people live in fear of ISIS, and other terrorist groups. In our own country, we experience shootings in our streets, in shopping centers, even in our schools. Even our own homes may be places of violence. Life can be filled with chaos. We can live in fear of strangers, fear of neighbors, fear of running out of money, fear of thunderstorms, fear, fear, and more fear.

It was like that for the disciples on that Easter Sunday evening. All they knew for certain was that Jesus, the man they had been counting on to save them, had been executed on a cross and his body was missing from his grave. Based on the facts, that was all they knew; and, because they were His disciples, their lives were in danger. Is it any wonder that they were hiding behind locked doors?

It is only when Jesus comes to them and offers them His peace that they can face their fears and go out into the world to share the gospel and, for many, to suffer martyrdom. It is only when they encounter the Risen Lord that He can breathe the Spirit into them and send them out to share His Peace with the world. The peace that Jesus offers is not the same peace that the world can create and enforce. The word that Jesus would have used in Hebrew does not translate well into Greek, Latin, or English (possibly not into any other language). Our word “peace” simply implies an absence of violence or turmoil. The Hebrew word “shalom” includes that, but is much more. Shalom is peace, health, prosperity, wholeness; everything good. This offer of “Peace be with you” is not simply a greeting, either. It is a prayer for another’s well-being and right relationship with God. It is prayer that God’s Mercy would be manifested in that person’s life.

That peace offered by Christ is borne out in the lives of the early disciples as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. “The community of believers was of one heart and mind.” They shared what they had with those in need. They gathered to share meals and to pray and worship together. They extended God’s peace and mercy to their friends and neighbors. They spread the good news of the Resurrection, and how they had experienced God’s Mercy. Shalom peace is one aspect of God’s infinite Mercy. Mercy that “endures forever.”

Mercy is another of those words we use that does not do justice to the original Hebrew word. In our psalm today, we heard three times that God’s “mercy endures forever.” But the word translated into mercy is “hesed” which translates better as loving kindness, or covenant love, or enduring compassion. As you can see, we do not have an appropriate English word. Maybe we need to call it infinite, enduring, compassionate love. But even that is not sufficient. Hesed describes God’s infinite, unending desire for our salvation. God is indeed merciful; but, we can refuse to accept that mercy. It can be difficult to be open to God’s Mercy. There are so many obstacles, so many distractions, and so many temptations. Jesus died for the salvation of all people; but not all people come to Jesus and accept that salvation. He opened the gates, but not everyone walks through. He broke the chains that bind us, but not all of us can drop the chains. God offers Mercy, but we need to be open to it. We need to ask for it; maybe we need to ask for help in opening to it. We need to accept it. We need to pray that God’s Mercy would be manifest in our lives and in the world today. We need to be messengers, and deliverers of God’s Mercy and Peace.

Like the disciples locked in the upper room, we live in a violence-filled world, surrounded by chaos. But like them, we can experience the Risen Jesus. We were incorporated into the Body of Christ, into God’s family at our Baptism. We received the fullness of the Spirit in Confirmation. We are strengthened in the Spirit, nourished for our mission every time we receive the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion. Like the disciples, we are sent out by Jesus to share the Gospel with everyone we know, to show them how our relationship with God guides our life and gives us His Peace. We are sent to share God’s Peace with one another and with our world in an infectious way. We are sent to say to the world “God’s Mercy endures forever.”

God’s Mercy and Peace endures forever!

Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord,
Deacon Bob

-April 5, 2015 - Easter Sunday
One of the great works of literature is The Arabian Nights, which includes the story of Aladdin. Aladdin’s father has died, leaving him and his mother in poverty. The young man’s prospects are incredibly bleak, until he comes into possession of a magic lamp. I think we all know the story of how the genie who dwelled in this lamp changes Aladdin’s life, giving him, riches, power, and the emperor’s daughter as his wife. What is beyond Aladdin isn’t beyond the genie. This has much in common with the story of Easter.

A world free of violence and greed seems impossible. Yet, impossible though it was, unto aged Abraham and Sarah came new-born Isaac.

Sam, 57 and mired in unemployment now for seven years, will never find a job. Yet the Red Sea parted so the Israelites could escape the pursuing Egyptians.

You’re at your wits’ end in caring for your spouse, stolen from you by dementia. Yet, as Joshua and his people looked on, the walls of impregnable Jericho somehow collapsed before them.

A couple fears mightily for the future of their young son, afflicted as he is by severe autism. Yet the Israelites, short on hope after languishing in a foreign land for 50 years, were allowed to return home.

Jane despairs over her troubled relationship with her employer. Yet ten lepers, enduring a fate worse than death, experienced healing and reunion with their families.

A woman’s friends and family believe recovery from her addiction is out of reach. Yet the tempest, which the terrified Twelve felt certain would swamp their boat and drown them, suddenly gave way to clear skies and a calm sea.

Eric, a veteran of the Iraq War, asks himself whether suicide is the only solution to the darkness and despair born of the terrible things he saw and did. Yet thousands of hungry people were fed with a few loaves and fishes.

You’re certain that forgiveness and healing within your family are possible only in a fairy tale. Yet on Easter Sunday Jesus, dead in his mother’s arms on Good Friday, was raised, restoring her withered joy and his disciples’ crushed hope.

What’s beyond us isn’t beyond God. That’s the message of Easter. In his love and mercy God works incredible feats, feats far beyond the power of Aladdin’s genie. Almost as mind-boggling is that we, despite our sinfulness, are Gods instruments to achieve these wonders. Commissioned for this through baptism and strengthened for it through eucharist, as faithful members of the Body of Christ, let us live in newness of life, always devoted to doing God’s will.

-March 29, 2015
We’re all for freedom for the innocent, aren’t we? Perhaps you’ve heard of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal clinic that makes use of DNA testing to free convicts who were wrongly convicted and imprisoned. The courts have granted freedom to hundreds of people as a result of efforts on the part of such groups as this, including a number in Northeast Ohio.

A priest I know, who’s a pastor in our diocese and also is a lawyer, was very active in freeing one such man, Joe D’Ambrosio. The exultation D’Ambrosio must have felt after more than 20 years on death row for a murder he didn’t commit is well-nigh impossible to imagine. That an innocent man was saved from execution and given his freedom is without question good news.

In a short while, at the start of the Eucharistic prayer for this Mass, we will hear these words in reference to Jesus: “For, though innocent, he suffered willingly for sinners and accepted unjust condemnation to save the guilty.” In today’s passage from Mark’s gospel, at the Last Supper Jesus speaks these words, which are repeated every time Mass is celebrated: “This is the blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”

The word many really means all. So Jesus died for all people, every one of whom is guilty. This is what Holy Week is all about: God’s immeasurable mercy and love for the creatures who, though made in his own image, proved themselves incapable of honoring and serving him; so incapable that they killed his Son.

Justice demands that we sinners, whose guilt is just as great as those of Jesus’ day who brought about his execution, be condemned and suffer the ultimate punishment. Isn’t that what our society demands of those found guilty of heinous crime? For a death row inmate that is death by legal injection or a firing squad, which is a picnic compared to everlasting separation from God, which everyone’s just dessert.

So we deserve, for we unquestionably are guilty, on account of our sinfulness. But God has pardoned us through Jesus’ cross and resurrection. This is the focus of the Church’s Holy Week observances. I strongly encourage you to participate in them, most especially the Triduum celebrations, which include the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil Mass or one of the Easter Sunday masses.

Yes, we’re all for freedom for the innocent. How can we, who are far from innocent, thank God enough for saving us despite our guilt and holding out to us the gift of eternal life? We can’t, but we give it our all by turning from sin and striving to praise and serve God with all our being, in imitation of his Son.

-March 15, 2015
Bitten by sin, the human race was poisoned and dying, and so God gave his only Son, that we might not perish.

In the film True Grit, 14-year-old Mattie Ross finally avenges her father by shooting dead Tom Chaney, the man who murdered him. Having eliminated the rest of the gang Chaney had joined, Rooster Cogburn returns and finds the girl in a bad way. She had hired the hard-bitten, crusty, and profane deputy U.S. marshal to help her, and how badly she needs his help now. The recoil from the rifle Mattie uses against Chaney has knocked her into a snake pit, leading an upset rattler to bite her hand.

Cogburn cuts into her hand and sucks out as much of the venom as he can. Then, to get her to a doctor, he places her on her horse and rides the animal day and night until it collapses, after which he carries her mile upon mile until, exhausted, he at last staggers into town.

As Cogburn saves Mattie from the rattler’s venom, so Jesus saves us from the poison that is sin. In our passage from John’s gospel, Jesus compares himself to the serpent Moses lifted up in the desert and says that he himself must be lifted up.

This verse refers to an episode in the Book of Numbers in which the Israelites, worn out in the course of their journeying to the Promised Land, once again complain against God. God punishes them by visiting poisonous snakes upon them, and these bite and kill many. When the people beg Moses for relief, he prays, and God has him fashion a bronze image of a snake, mount it on a pole, and instruct those bitten to look at it. All who gaze upon this image recover.

In saying Jesus must be lifted up, the gospel’s author refers to Jesus’ being lifted up onto the cross to die, being lifted up in his resurrection, and being lifted up into heaven. Next Sunday’s gospel passage, which again is from John, also depicts Jesus as speaking of being lifted up, while in last Sunday gospel the Lord says, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up”—another allusion to his death and resurrection.

How suitable these readings are for Lent, the liturgical season that presses us to reflect upon Christ’s sacrifice and what it demands from us, so that we may be prepared for our Easter celebration of his resurrection. Like the bronze serpent that brought recovery to the snake-bitten Israelites who looked at it, Jesus is the cure for sin’s poison. As St. Paul says in our reading from Ephesians, the Father gave Jesus to us to save us, who were dead in our transgressions. God brought us to life with Christ and raised us up with him.

Today’s first reading, from the second Book of Chronicles, reminds us of an earlier time when God had showed the same concern for his wayward people. Six centuries before Jesus’ birth, God imposed exile upon the Israelites because so many of them had turned their backs on him, ignoring the covenant they had made with him through Moses. They did evil and turned a deaf ear to the prophets. They preferred to trust not in God but in themselves and inflicted many injustices on their needy brothers and sisters, all the while behaving in their worship as though all were well. Their punishment moved them to repent, and God looked kindly on them once again.

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” As God took pity on his people enduring exile in Babylon and led them back to their land, so God looked kindly upon all of his sinful children and saved us through Jesus. God is unfailingly merciful.

Because sin remains as deadly an infection for us as it was for the Israelites of our first reading, we need Jesus. If I cut my finger, I need a bandage on it for a while, but then exposure to the light and air promotes healing, right? Jesus is the light we need for healing the wounds we inflict on ourselves when we sin.

Let us expose ourselves to the light that is Christ! That’s what Lent is meant for. Sin is darkness, and that darkness remains as alluring to us as it was to Adam and Eve, whom the serpent seduced. We allow Christ’s light to bathe us when we turn to him in prayer and seek him out through the sacraments.

A venomous snake’s bite, deadly though it can be, is of little consequence compared to the result of sin--spiritual death. Soon we will share in eucharist. Healed by this priceless meal, may we devote ourselves to good works, so that once again the world may be the paradise it was before Adam and Eve bit into the forbidden fruit.

-March 08, 2015
Imagine that we have gone to the theater to see a movie. First, we stop to buy a ticket. We enter the inner doors and hand the ticket to an usher who gives us directions to find our seats. And there is the smell of popcorn. Vendors want us to purchase something to eat and to drink. We need to stop and buy something to enjoy during the movie. So we stand in line, waiting; hoping to get our snacks before the movie starts.

This is all part of the movie-going experience. Even watching a movie at home, some of us want that popcorn. Without that, the experience is not complete. But it is not about the food and the drink. The important part of the experience is the movie. And if we are with someone else, the experience includes that other person.

When Jesus and the disciples enter the Temple, the scene is much the same as we just experienced coming to the theater. Inside the first doors, there are money changers who will exchange our Roman currency for Jewish coins; we need acceptable currency to pay the Temple tax when we get inside. Then there are the vendors selling animals for our sacrifice, and crowds of people. There are the smells of the incense burning, and of the animals. It is all part of the experience. None of this is bad any more than the presence of popcorn in the theater is bad.

Jesus throws the money-changers out of the Temple precinct because they have been cheating the poor, and they are forgetting that it is worship of God that is central, not making a profit by selling animals for sacrifice. The focus is to be on the relationship with God and with one another. Jesus does not condemn the sacrifices. He doesn’t condemn worship in the Temple, or even the selling of animals for sacrifice; it is the way business is being carried that he condemns. He is concerned about the personal relationships that are being disregarded.

In our reading from Exodus today, the Israelites have been wandering in the desert for months. They are hungry and thirsty; and, sometimes that hunger and thirst gets to them. God has to remind them, that God is the one who saved them from slavery in Egypt, and who saves us from slavery to addictions to wealth, entertainment, pleasure, and any worldly “god”. The Israelites have been wandering, sometimes rejoicing, sometimes grumbling. “God freed us from slavery in Egypt, but I’m tired of living in a tent, back there I had a real bed.” “God is giving us manna, but I’m tired of these corn flakes.” “God is giving us quail every day, I would like a hamburger for a change.” Sometimes they remember what God has done, and sometimes they just want more. It is only after God has already freed and fed the people that they are given the Commandments. Up to this point, the only thing God has required of the people is that they remember what God has done for them and be grateful. And what are those Commandments about? Relationships. The Commandments give the people guidance to live in correct relationship to one another and to God. What God wants is to have a close relationship with the people. But their focus is on the food and drink. Later the focus becomes the Temple, the taxes, and the animals for sacrifice. They become distracted from the relationship. The focus turns to the popcorn rather than the movie; to what St. Paul today calls “signs” of God presence and power.

St. Paul talks about signs and wisdom. For the Israelites in the desert, the signs were the parting of the Red Sea, smoke and fire, the Manna, water flowing from rocks. For some of the people who followed Jesus, what was important were the healings and the miracles that he performed; more signs. But St. Paul says that for us the only necessary sign is “Christ crucified” which proves God’s love for us. And God’s love for us is the point of all the “signs.” God reminds the people, immediately before issuing the Commandments, that “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” God has been with them all this time, leading and feeding them before ever asking anything of them.

St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans (Romans 5:5–8) that “Christ, while we were still helpless, died…” and that “God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Like the Israelites, we sometimes find ourselves wandering in a desert; but God provides for our needs and continues leading us toward our Promised Land.

God is calling out to each of us to come closer, to experience God’s love in new ways, to enter a relationship more intimate than that of a mother for her unborn child, more intimate than the intimacy of husband and wife.

God is reaching out to each of us, and the question becomes, “How will I respond?” Will I demand more signs, or will I accept God’s offer of an everlasting, intimate relationship?

Are we seeking “signs” and “wisdom,” or an intimate relationship with God?

Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord,
Deacon Bob

-March 01, 2015
Have you ever dialed the wrong number on the phone? Sure you have. Out of embarrassment, sometimes maybe you’ve immediately hung up, not saying another word after discovering your mistake. Then there are those occasions when someone phones you by mistake, and a moment later you’re back to whatever you were doing.

God doesn’t dial the wrong number.

I suppose all of us are familiar with receiving spam in our e-mail. Dr. Oz doesn’t know who you are but hopes you are interested in effortless weight loss, or some outfit promises you life insurance without a medical exam required.

God knows precisely what you need and shows you how to get it.

God does this with Samuel in our first reading and with Andrew and another of John the Baptist’s disciples in John’s gospel. God calls them and leads them to where they need to be.

In the days before the monarchy was established in Israel, Samuel was a young boy whom his mother, Hannah, had entrusted to the priest Eli. She had been a childless wife until God heard her plea, and out of gratitude, gave her son into God’s service. We are told how God called Samuel. The child didn’t realize God was reaching out to him until Eli grasped what God was about and told him how to respond. Samuel grew into a great leader and the first of the prophets.

John the Baptist plays the role of Eli in helping Andrew and the other disciple to recognize Jesus as the Messiah and follow him. And Andrew does the same for his brother Simon Peter, whom he hurries to tell about Jesus. Both develop into leaders of the Church.

When God called Samuel, Andrew, and Peter, it was no accident, no wrong number, nor is it when God calls you and me. He seeks us out to lead us to what we are looking for—what every person is looking for. When the two disciples of John the Baptist follow Jesus and ask him where he is staying, what they are saying is they want to find fulfillment. This is something every human person seeks. And Jesus’ response is, stay with me and you will discover what you’ve always wanted.

Some people try to find fulfillment in a job that brings them a great income, or fame as an athlete or entertainer, or Buddhism or some other system of belief. Others look to satisfy this longing by meeting the “right person”, or indulging their appetite for food or alcohol or sex, or earning another academic degree.

St. Augustine, that celebrated saint who died in 430, looked in the wrong places: in worldly success as a great intellectual and teacher and orator, in the arms of a mistress who bore him a son, and in Manichaeism, a religious sect that competed with Christianity. God made no mistake in calling Augustine, his brilliant but lost son, and finally Augustine found his way to God when he moved to Milan to further his career. There he encountered Ambrose, the bishop of that city and another great saint, who served as a guide, just like Eli and John the Baptist. Through Ambrose and by other means, such as the fervent prayers of Augustine’s mother, whom we know as St. Monica, God helped that seeker Augustine. He was baptized and later was ordained a priest, and then he became a bishop of immense influence.

God kept dialing Augustine, who, like all of us, thirsted for fulfillment. Only by staying with Jesus, imitating Andrew’s example in the gospel, do we find it. Augustine wrote, “My soul is restless until it rests in thee,” which speaks to the truth that complete peace and fulfillment only will be ours when we are united with God in heaven.

God gave us what we need when we were baptized: He made us his children by adoption, bestowing the Holy Spirit upon us. God never ceases calling us. As God used Eli in Samuel’s call, John the Baptist in Andrew’s, and Andrew in Simon Peter’s, let us allow God to make us of us in calling others. And with the grace of eucharist, reconciliation, and prayer, may each person respond, “Speak, for your servant is listening,” that everyone may ever abide in Jesus.

-February 22, 2015
It’s funny that of all that our teachers impart to us, we often remember the oddest things and forget what’s important. I remember what Sr. Benita taught me in the ninth grade on diagramming a sentence, yet something far more weighty from a course in the seminary fled my mind long ago.

Mark’s gospel treats teaching as quite important. In fact, the only person Mark depicts in the role of teaching is Jesus. He sends his disciples out to cast out demons and heal, but they never teach. Jesus is the one who knows the Father and speaks for him. Today’s passage from Deuteronomy depicts Moses as telling the people, shortly before he dies and they enter the Promised Land, “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him you shall listen.”

For 40 years Moses had represented God by means of his powerful words and deeds. God acted through Moses to bring water from the rock and manna from the sky and before that to bring upon the Egyptians plagues of frogs, gnats, flies, pestilence, hail, locusts, and finally the death of their first-born.

In the fullness of time Jesus clothed himself in human flesh and proved his words and deeds to be far more powerful than those of Moses. Our verses show him performing his first miracle, as he casts out a demon from a possessed man, after he already has deeply impressed his listeners by his words.

Like you, I have sat in many classrooms and learned many important things from my teachers. I remember some but am struck by the inconsequential matters that sometimes have stuck in my mind. Jesus is our most important teacher. We do well to remember what he has shared with his Church, through the Bible and the Church’s teachings. From him we learn about God’s all-embracing love, boundless forgiveness, special concern for the poor and weak, and his desire for a profound relationship with every person. Jesus has taught us that God is ever with us, that we are to serve him by putting the needs of others ahead of our own, and that a place in heaven awaits all who listen to his Son.

I hope you and I never forget any of these lessons. May we allow them to direct us in how we go about our days in this world, so that, like Jesus, we may serve as God’s instruments for salvation. How well Joseph’s carpentry classes stuck with him who can say, but he never forgot his lessons from his divine Father.

Forgetting happens so easily. Many lose sight of keeping holy the Lord’s Day and come to Mass to worship God three or 12 or 26 times a year instead of every week. Serving the one true God slips out of a person’s mind, and he ends up making money or success or bodily pleasure his false god.

Today, as he did last Sunday and the Sunday before, St. Paul challenges the Corinthian Church on sexual issues, an area in which many in our society, Christians included, have suffered massive memory loss. Two Sundays back he wrote that we the baptized must avoid immorality, because our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit. We’re to glorify God in our bodies. Today he calls on us to adhere to the Lord without distraction and “be anxious about the things of the Lord.”

“Whoever will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it,” God says to the Israelites through Moses in our first reading, regarding the prophet to come. Some people are of the mind that the Church’s teachings on morality can be ignored. Some forget that these teachings have been imparted by God; they aren’t simply human rules.

Our bodies are holy, so it is not okay to hook up with whomever you want, nor is it okay to treat sex as simply recreational, for sexual activity abounds with profound meaning. It must, because it is the means by which we share in the divine creative power. Sex isn’t just a matter for two consenting adults, no matter what our society says. How can it be, considering that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit—the vehicles by which we serve God?

We have a whole lot of teachers in the course of our lives. None is more important than Jesus. He speaks still through the Church, which is his Body in this world, and through Scripture. Let us listen to him and never forget the lessons he has shared with us.

-February 15, 2015
Catholic Charities Annual Appeal

-February 8, 2015
Jesus raised her up from her sick-bed and she waited on them. As Jesus did for Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, so he did for Charles de Foucauld, as so God does for us, that we may be of service.

Charles wasn’t physically ill, but his spiritual health was another story. Restless and ever searching, he couldn’t find his way. Born into a wealthy, aristocratic French family and orphaned at a young age, he was raised by an uncle, a retired French army officer. Like his uncle, Charles attended the French military academy and was commissioned as a lieutenant in 1880. His playboy ways scandalized others, not the least his all-too-public relationship with a mistress, and he quickly left the army, only to return so he could serve with his regiment when a revolution erupted in the North African country of Algeria, a French colony.

Honored for his bravery, after the war he continued his restless searching, winning fame for journeying throughout North Africa, disguised as a native, and mapping its many unknown regions. Of course God was waiting patiently. It was through Charles’ beloved cousin that God opened the eyes of this ever-searching son of his. Her deep Catholic faith touched him profoundly and prompted him to turn anew to God, whom he’d long ago forsaken.

Over the next 30 years, restless as ever, he sought to understand how he could best serve God. For seven years he belonged to the strict religious order known as the Trappists. Then he spent three years in the Holy Land. Back in France, he completed his studies and was ordained to the priesthood. Eventually he returned to North Africa and lived a hermit’s life, the only Christian in the desolate area where he settled in remote, southern Algeria. His charity, holiness, and great respect for and understanding of the Muslim faith endeared him to the Muslim tribesmen who populated that region. Charles died in 1916, murdered by a band of Bedouins who had intended to kidnap him and hold him for ransom. He was beatified by the Church in 2009.

Lost and spiritually bereft, Charles needed healing. That healing took a major step forward thanks to his cousin‘s influence. Simon’s mother-in-law needed healing, and Jesus responded. Job, shorn of his wealth and his children and stricken with disease, also needed to be healed. What he needed most of all was to understand why God had allowed such terrible suffering to befall him, a man who had not sinned. At the end of the Book of Job, God heals Job and restores all that he’d lost, for Job never abandoned his faith in God, despite Satan’s assurance to God that he would.

Not a person lives who doesn’t need healing. Whether we realize it or not, our search for it leads every one of us to Jesus’ door, like the crowd of sick and possessed people in our passage from Mark’s gospel. What it shows us is Jesus battling against evil and overcoming it. The understanding among his people was that sin and evil lay at the root of everything bad that happened to a person. That’s why in John’s gospel, when Jesus miraculously enables the blind man to see, his disciples ask whether it was because of the man’s sin or his parents’ sin that he was born blind.

So when Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law and all those at Simon’s door, he is defeating evil. Then the healed woman waits on Jesus, Simon, and the other disciples. That might not sound significant, but it is, because to serve is what we Christians are all about. Sin was at the root of what ailed her, according to that period’s limited grasp of disease. It incapacitated her. Jesus restored her health so she could resume being of service to others.

Next weekend St. Therese Church and parishes throughout our diocese will conduct the in-pew pledge process for the annual Catholic Charities appeal. As Jesus’ disciples, you and I have the responsibility to be of service to the suffering in our community. The sick and possessed who stood at Jesus’ door appealing for help represent the nearly 400,000 persons in our area who last year benefited from the meals, shelter, foster homes, adult day care, counseling, and job and migration services made possible thanks to your pledges that support Catholic Charities.

Healing is what each of us needs, and not so much healing from bodily illness but spiritual healing. Many are spiritually lost, and selfishness, which is a spiritual malady no one escapes, prevents us from putting our lives at the service of needy, suffering people. As the mother-in-law, Job, and Charles de Foucauld experienced healing that restored them to their proper role of doing good for others, so do we, if we open our hearts to God, whose love empowers us in eucharist, which we soon will share.

-February 1, 2015
It’s funny that of all that our teachers impart to us, we often remember the oddest things and forget what’s important. I remember what Sr. Benita taught me in the ninth grade on diagramming a sentence, yet something far more weighty from a course in the seminary fled my mind long ago.

Mark’s gospel treats teaching as quite important. In fact, the only person Mark depicts in the role of teaching is Jesus. He sends his disciples out to cast out demons and heal, but they never teach. Jesus is the one who knows the Father and speaks for him. Today’s passage from Deuteronomy depicts Moses as telling the people, shortly before he dies and they enter the Promised Land, “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him you shall listen.”

For 40 years Moses had represented God by means of his powerful words and deeds. God acted through Moses to bring water from the rock and manna from the sky and before that to bring upon the Egyptians plagues of frogs, gnats, flies, pestilence, hail, locusts, and finally the death of their first-born.

In the fullness of time Jesus clothed himself in human flesh and proved his words and deeds to be far more powerful than those of Moses. Our verses show him performing his first miracle, as he casts out a demon from a possessed man, after he already has deeply impressed his listeners by his words.

Like you, I have sat in many classrooms and learned many important things from my teachers. I remember some but am struck by the inconsequential matters that sometimes have stuck in my mind. Jesus is our most important teacher. We do well to remember what he has shared with his Church, through the Bible and the Church’s teachings. From him we learn about God’s all-embracing love, boundless forgiveness, special concern for the poor and weak, and his desire for a profound relationship with every person. Jesus has taught us that God is ever with us, that we are to serve him by putting the needs of others ahead of our own, and that a place in heaven awaits all who listen to his Son.

I hope you and I never forget any of these lessons. May we allow them to direct us in how we go about our days in this world, so that, like Jesus, we may serve as God’s instruments for salvation. How well Joseph’s carpentry classes stuck with him who can say, but he never forgot his lessons from his divine Father.

Forgetting happens so easily. Many lose sight of keeping holy the Lord’s Day and come to Mass to worship God three or 12 or 26 times a year instead of every week. Serving the one true God slips out of a person’s mind, and he ends up making money or success or bodily pleasure his false god.

Today, as he did last Sunday and the Sunday before, St. Paul challenges the Corinthian Church on sexual issues, an area in which many in our society, Christians included, have suffered massive memory loss. Two Sundays back he wrote that we the baptized must avoid immorality, because our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit. We’re to glorify God in our bodies. Today he calls on us to adhere to the Lord without distraction and “be anxious about the things of the Lord.”

“Whoever will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it,” God says to the Israelites through Moses in our first reading, regarding the prophet to come. Some people are of the mind that the Church’s teachings on morality can be ignored. Some forget that these teachings have been imparted by God; they aren’t simply human rules.

Our bodies are holy, so it is not okay to hook up with whomever you want, nor is it okay to treat sex as simply recreational, for sexual activity abounds with profound meaning. It must, because it is the means by which we share in the divine creative power. Sex isn’t just a matter for two consenting adults, no matter what our society says. How can it be, considering that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit—the vehicles by which we serve God?

We have a whole lot of teachers in the course of our lives. None is more important than Jesus. He speaks still through the Church, which is his Body in this world, and through Scripture. Let us listen to him and never forget the lessons he has shared with us.

-January 25, 2015
“This is the time of fulfillment.”

Thus Jesus proclaims in today’s passage from Mark’s gospel; but what does this mean?

Fulfillment matters a lot to us. Because of it I didn’t stay on as a bearing salesman in the family business but chose to work at a newspaper. Many sculptors and painters and musicians have pursued their art because that’s what gives them joy. Jennie’s love for animals led her to take a job in a pet store. While Eric’s work at Ford is okay, time with his family and tinkering with his cars are more fulfilling.

In the gospel, Jesus has just begun his public ministry in Galilee after spending 40 days in the desert, where he was tempted. In proclaiming that the time of fulfillment has come and the kingdom of God is at hand, he’s announcing that at long last God is present among his people. They’d been looking forward to God’s coming for many centuries, and now justice, order, and peace would be established.

How would these things be accomplished? As a result of people turning away from sin and believing in Jesus. Fulfillment is entirely bound up in God. It’s crucial that we answer his call, a call that will bring us big surprises.

Peter, Andrew, James, and John answered Jesus’ call, abandoning their fishing careers. I’d say this is something they’d never intended to do and hadn’t a clue where it would lead them. Unlike his father and grandfather and probably a number of other ancestors, Peter wouldn’t die near the Sea of Galilee after fishing it for 30 or 40 years. His death would occur on a cross in distant Rome, capping a life of following Jesus.

Where will you end up as a result of answering Jesus’ call and finding fulfillment in him? Quite likely in an ordinary place like Garfield Heights, similar to your family and neighbors and just about everyone you know. But, though your life might appear little different from others’, how deceptive appearances can be.

Countless are the people who, by turning their lives over to Jesus, have found a measure of fulfillment that they couldn’t have imagined. This experience of peace and satisfaction is the fruit of an intimate friendship with God and a determination to serve others, especially those with great needs, in imitation of Jesus. Most of us who profess our faith in Jesus as God’s Son lead ordinary lives of extraordinary purpose.

But not without hardship and disappointment and failure. The four

Apostles who answered Jesus’ call in our gospel verses all abandoned him upon his arrest, and within a few hours of that, Peter cowardly denied knowing him.

In their weakness and sinfulness they failed God in huge ways. So do you and I. But they experienced God’s mercy and so strove all the harder to repent and follow Jesus. Such can be our choice, too.

Fulfillment comes from joyfully giving ourselves into God’s service. However, many will be the hardships and disappointments, for didn’t Jesus assure us that all who follow him will suffer as he suffered?

A person of faith named Linda, lying in bed in a local nursing home, often weeps at the surprising turn her life has taken. She’s only in her 50s, but her poor health has brought her to this unpleasant state. This isn’t what she envisioned for herself. Why is this my lot, this woman of faith asks God.

Her lot is hard. “Fulfilled” isn’t how she would describe herself. Peter endured such times, too, as does each of us. No, even though Jesus brought God’s kingdom into this world, peace, justice and order are far from fully established, as we all know. Total fulfillment must await the day when Jesus returns in glory.

Nonetheless, he is present, for he became one with each of us in baptism, and we encounter him in eucharist, Scripture, and in each other. By embodying Christ, speaking and acting for him in the life of people like Linda, we make his presence clear. Such service is a blessing for the Lindas out there, helping them to trust in God. No less are we blessed by answering Jesus’ call to follow him.

“This is the time of fulfillment,” Jesus proclaims. Despite all the hardships and suffering of his life, placing himself in his Father’s hands and serving him brought Jesus fulfillment. In the end, so it will for us, too, even if, like with Linda, that service happens in a nursing home bed, where we benefit the world with our prayers and by practicing joyful hope in the midst of suffering.

Right no is the time of fulfillment, right here in this suffering world, where God reveals himself by means of our loving service. Ordinary though we may be, by answering God’s call to turn from sin and believe in Jesus, we reveal our extraordinary purpose and guide others to the true life only Jesus gives.

-January 18, 2015
Have you ever dialed the wrong number on the phone? Sure you have. Out of embarrassment, sometimes maybe you’ve immediately hung up, not saying another word after discovering your mistake. Then there are those occasions when someone phones you by mistake, and a moment later you’re back to whatever you were doing.

God doesn’t dial the wrong number.

I suppose all of us are familiar with receiving spam in our e-mail. Dr. Oz doesn’t know who you are but hopes you are interested in effortless weight loss, or some outfit promises you life insurance without a medical exam required.

God knows precisely what you need and shows you how to get it.

God does this with Samuel in our first reading and with Andrew and another of John the Baptist’s disciples in John’s gospel. God calls them and leads them to where they need to be.

In the days before the monarchy was established in Israel, Samuel was a young boy whom his mother, Hannah, had entrusted to the priest Eli. She had been a childless wife until God heard her plea, and out of gratitude, gave her son into God’s service. We are told how God called Samuel. The child didn’t realize God was reaching out to him until Eli grasped what God was about and told him how to respond. Samuel grew into a great leader and the first of the prophets.

John the Baptist plays the role of Eli in helping Andrew and the other disciple to recognize Jesus as the Messiah and follow him. And Andrew does the same for his brother Simon Peter, whom he hurries to tell about Jesus. Both develop into leaders of the Church.

When God called Samuel, Andrew, and Peter, it was no accident, no wrong number, nor is it when God calls you and me. He seeks us out to lead us to what we are looking for—what every person is looking for. When the two disciples of John the Baptist follow Jesus and ask him where he is staying, what they are saying is they want to find fulfillment. This is something every human person seeks. And Jesus’ response is, stay with me and you will discover what you’ve always wanted.

Some people try to find fulfillment in a job that brings them a great income, or fame as an athlete or entertainer, or Buddhism or some other system of belief. Others look to satisfy this longing by meeting the “right person”, or indulging their appetite for food or alcohol or sex, or earning another academic degree.

St. Augustine, that celebrated saint who died in 430, looked in the wrong places: in worldly success as a great intellectual and teacher and orator, in the arms of a mistress who bore him a son, and in Manichaeism, a religious sect that competed with Christianity. God made no mistake in calling Augustine, his brilliant but lost son, and finally Augustine found his way to God when he moved to Milan to further his career. There he encountered Ambrose, the bishop of that city and another great saint, who served as a guide, just like Eli and John the Baptist. Through Ambrose and by other means, such as the fervent prayers of Augustine’s mother, whom we know as St. Monica, God helped that seeker Augustine. He was baptized and later was ordained a priest, and then he became a bishop of immense influence.

God kept dialing Augustine, who, like all of us, thirsted for fulfillment. Only by staying with Jesus, imitating Andrew’s example in the gospel, do we find it. Augustine wrote, “My soul is restless until it rests in thee,” which speaks to the truth that complete peace and fulfillment only will be ours when we are united with God in heaven.

God gave us what we need when we were baptized: He made us his children by adoption, bestowing the Holy Spirit upon us. God never ceases calling us. As God used Eli in Samuel’s call, John the Baptist in Andrew’s, and Andrew in Simon Peter’s, let us allow God to make us of us in calling others. And with the grace of eucharist, reconciliation, and prayer, may each person respond, “Speak, for your servant is listening,” that everyone may ever abide in Jesus.

-January 11, 2015
“If you can take it, you can make it.” These words recur several times in the newly-released film Unbroken. It tells the story of Louis Zamperini, an American who ran in the 1936 Olympics, survived almost 7 weeks on a raft in the Pacific after his bomber crashed, and then persevered throughout a hellish two years as a POW of the Japanese during World War II.

“If you can take it, you can make it.” This was the challenge Louie’s older brother issued when he was encouraging him to endure the pain of training as a track athlete. Louie had gotten into a fair amount of trouble with the police while growing up and seemed destined for bad things. His brother’s participation in track caught his attention, however, and led to the challenge that changed his life. He developed into the fastest high school runner in the country, paving his way to the Olympics. Those nine words also proved crucial to him during his ordeals in the life raft and as a POW, when giving up and dying looked quite attractive.

You could say that this celebration of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord also is about making it. In today’s verses from the First Letter of John, we are told that we conquer the world through our faith in Jesus as the Son of God. This is how we Christians “make it”. Our faith gives us the power to transform the world into the realm of the Prince of Peace.

Baptism is the sign of our faith, and through it we are reborn as God’s adopted children. It marks us as belonging to God, in the same way that Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan did for him. In baptism the Holy Spirit comes down upon us as he did upon Jesus, and the Father expresses his pleasure in us.

As followers of Jesus, we “make it” ultimately when we are united with God in heaven. That proves we have pleased God. But to make it in this way undoubtedly means that we have to “take it”; we have to endure the suffering that comes the way of every Christian. God expressed pleasure in Jesus because at the end of his public ministry the Son embraces death on a cross, achieving the Father’s plan of salvation.

Each of us will hear the words, “You are my beloved Son/Daughter; with you I am well pleased,” if we are faithful in carrying out the part we are to play in God’s plan.

To please God demands commitment, and commitment is scary, because it means letting God set our agenda. “If you can take it, you can make it.” God’s way of making it is the exact opposite of the world’s, as Jesus’ cross clearly reveals. Because of this, many is the time when we ask ourselves whether or not we can take it. Can we forgive our enemy, give away our wealth, place someone else ahead of ourselves, recognize Christ in a person very different from us, and trust in Christ’s light despite the darkness? How often we fail.

Well, so did St. Peter and St. Paul. Like them, we must have confidence that God is generous in forgiving. Like them, we must believe that through Scripture, prayer, and eucharist we will be able to take it—to take anything the powers of darkness throw at us.

All of us know people who in baptism were freed from that darkness, cleansed of sin, and adopted as children of God, just as we were, but who apparently have forsaken Jesus’ way. It discourages us that they see no meaning in their baptism and Christian faith. Somehow they have come to believe there is a better way to make it than through pleasing God by imitating Jesus.

Let us not give up on them. Rather, we must pray for them, love them, urge them to return, and always trust in God’s power and mercy. None of us is immune to being led astray, to seeking satisfaction where it can never be found.

Nevertheless, having found the Lord, may we never forsake him. Remain strong in your commitment made in baptism and endure in obedience to God. Never forget that, even as you continue the struggle to carry out your part in God’s plan, as God’s adopted children you already share in the victory over sin and death won by Christ’s cross and resurrection.

-January 04, 2015
Pop Quiz: How may kings does the gospel say came to the stable with gifts for the newborn Jesus? — The gospel says that Magi from the East came to the house where Jesus and Mary were; they prostrated themselves and gave Him everything that they valued.

Who were these Magi? We have very little information. Their names are not recorded in the gospels. The gospels do not tell us how many Magi came. We do not know exactly where they came from, only that they came from “the East” which is somewhat vague. The title Magi and their interest in stars implies that they were probably astrologers, certainly practitioners of some occult religion; which was banned by the Law of Moses.

These mysterious Magi, while studying the stars noticed something. They may not have understood it, but God was calling to them through the stars, the things that they were interested in. God was present to them in nature, and they were paying attention. God is present to us in nature, in one another, and all around us. St. Ignatius of Loyola tells us to find God in all things. Are we looking? Are we paying attention?

The Magi left home, work, families, to undertake a long, difficult journey, following a star, not sure where they were going. They gave of their time, possibly a large portion of their life to find this new king.

They followed that star, God’s initial call, as far as they could, and then asked for help. They consulted with Herod, who consulted the religious authorities. The Magi found answers to their questions in the Hebrew Scriptures, in the religious authorities, in the prophets. There are some people who stop short of this step. They say that they can find God in nature; that they do not need to be part of an organized religion. While it is true that we can find God’s hand at work in nature, and we can praise God anywhere, it is within the Church that we find guidance for out journey to God. It is when we gather together that we can offer one another support is our search for God, and it is here that we find nourishment for our long, difficult journey.

Having been directed toward Bethlehem, the Magi come to Jesus in a personal encounter. It is not enough to know where Jesus is; a personal relationship with Him is necessary. It is in the face of Jesus that we see the face of God. (Notice that Mary is mentioned here in the Gospel. Do not forget Mom! She can bring us to her Son.)

Now that they have found Jesus, the Magi worship Him. They do not just pay Him lip service. They do more that just genuflect or kneel, they “prostrated themselves and did him homage.” They actually laid face down on the floor (probably dirt) to show their utmost respect for Jesus. This was not a posture that was expected of people even for an Emperor. These people who were not Jews recognized that this was not just a new king, they recognize that this is God. Do we show the same respect when we come before our Savior?…when we step forward to receive Him in the Eucharist?

They opened their treasures to Jesus and offered him their most valuable possessions. They realize that everything they have has been given to them by God, and so acknowledge that Jesus is their rightful owner. He should decide their use.

Gold—they offer him their wealth. Everything they possess is a gift from God. Now that they have come face-to-face with Jesus, their relationship with Him will guide them in their financial decisions and the use of their possessions.

Frankincense—they offer him their worship. More than just a one-time event, this encounter with Jesus will affect their entire spiritual life. These Magi were astrologers, believers in the power of the stars over our lives. Now the stars are no longer in control, because Jesus is Lord of the Universe. Jesus should be the one in control of our lives. He is one to whom we owe our worship.

Myrrh—a strange gift for a young child. Perhaps the Magi did not understand why they were offering this gift. It is a sweet smelling plant resin used to make perfumes. Maybe they brought it to cover the scent of dirty diapers? It would have been used in preparing bodies for burial. Could this have been a way of acknowledging that Jesus, fully Divine but also fully human, would die for the redemption of mankind? Is it meant to remind us not to focus too long on the manger scene with baby Jesus sleeping comfortably in the crib, but to remember how he will die on that Cross for our sins?

The Magi paid attention to God’s presence around them;

then, they gave their time, their wealth, their worship, and their lives to Jesus.
How do we do that tomorrow and the next day?
Called by God, the Magi look for Jesus, worship Him, and open their treasures to Him?

Wishing you a grace filled new year,
Deacon Bob

-December 28, 2014
Do you remember that Mob family, the Sopranos? And what about Archie, Gloria and the other Bunkers from All in the Family? Of course the Simpsons are still going strong, as are the various households of Modern Family.

What we remember today is no TV family but the Holy Family, on whose feast we celebrate the love of God that is at work within our families and we look to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as models.

Only the gospels of Matthew and Luke provide a picture of Jesus’ childhood, and that picture is quite vague. Since both Joseph and Mary are portrayed as a devout people who listen to God, we rightly presume that God guided them to love their son and instruct him well about the things of heaven and the things of earth. It was due to their right relationship with God that Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.”

God works within human relationships and reveals his mercy and love, as well as his power to bring life, beauty, and light out of darkness and tragedy. Our openness to a right relationship with God makes this possible for us, as it did for the Holy Family.

This feast isn’t for perfect families, since there is no such thing. Life wasn’t perfect for Joseph and Mary, either. They had a rough start, with Mary becoming pregnant before she and Joseph had lived together as husband and wife. But for God assuring Joseph that taking Mary into his home was his will, he would’ve divorced her. Then the new parents had to flee to Egypt to save their son from murder at the hands of King Herod.

All was well with June and Ward Cleaver and their kids Wally and Beaver on the 1950’s TV program Leave it to Beaver, and the same on the 1980s The Cosby Show for Cliff and Clair Huxtable and their five kids. Not many such families are found in the Bible, whose human authors were intimately acquainted with the impact of tragedy and brokenness on human experience.

Adam and Eve’s eldest son murdered his brother. One of the patriarch Jacob’s 12 sons, Judah, had an incestuous relationship with his daughter-in-law. King David was an adulterer who took another man’s wife for himself after arranging for her husband’s death. And the prophet Hosea’s wife cheated on him.

God never turned his back on any of these biblical figures, nor does he do so with us in our brokenness. Has your grown child cut himself off from you, or has your brother’s alcoholism led to a painful rift in the family? Has the bitter divorce between you and your ex-spouse left both of you and your kids, too, badly wounded? Has the sexual abuse that occurred within your family seemingly ruined life for everyone touched by it? Have you given up on the likelihood of father and son ever reconciling since the young man came out as gay a few years back?

Never despair. Nothing is beyond the power of him whose Son was born as one like us and who raised his Son from the grave, for his love and mercy are always at work in our lives. There is no darkness or tragedy that can’t give way to life, beauty, and light, thanks to God’s power.

What is key is to remain open to a right relationship with God. Mary and Joseph put to good use the grace God gave them for this, and they taught Jesus to do the same. We can be confident that God’s generosity towards us is no less.

Our relationship with God will be right if we make time for God by means of daily prayer and if we participate in the sacraments, by which we unite ourselves in a special way with the Lord and one another. Then we too will grow in a strength and wisdom that empower us to be Christ in our families and for all the people around us.

-Christmas 2014
What are we here to celebrate? Not just the birth of a child, as joyful an occasion as that is, for haven’t countless babies have been born into the human family over the millennia? Throughout the world today, people gather to praise God for the birth of an extraordinary child, the very Son of God.

What brought about this remarkable event? A fatal illness had infected the heart of the human animal, who desperately needed a new one. His original heart was worn and weak, barely able to function. Designed to be supple and soft, a dreaded disease that nobody can escape was turning it stony and immoveable. That disease was sin. Adam and Eve had contracted it first, ignoring the danger God had warned them against. Their disobedience was repeated by their offspring, with violent Cain going so far as to murder his own brother. At one point, God chose to start over, sending a great flood that only the righteous Noah and his family survived. But sin reasserted its hold on the human race.

Clearly, humankind was past hope, needing the natural heart that God originally had placed within Adam and Eve. Therefore, to give us a new heart, God took the unheard-of step of becoming one of us: a person weak and vulnerable, subject to sorrow and suffering, sickness and death, and always battling temptation. Every year at this time we remember with joy that, in great humility, “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” God, who seemed so distant, now is with us, as the name “Emmanuel” makes clear.

But even at this early point in the gospel, we hear of the darkness that will shadow Jesus. Matthew’s gospel relates that Mary and Joseph take their child and flee to Egypt, because King Herod, threatened by this newborn king of the Jews, intends to kill him. In Luke’s gospel, when the baby is presented in the temple, the holy man Simeon ominously says to Mary that her child “is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign of contradiction.” Within the first 11 verses of John, we find that the world that came to be through the Word did not know him and his own people did not accept him. Thus, long before the gospel arrives at Jesus’ suffering and death, we are clued in to them.

The Creator was born in the likeness of his creature to be light for us who dwelt in a land of gloom, doomed on account of our sinfulness to walk in darkness. Unable to find its way, the human race cried out in despair, and so into the world entered the true light that no darkness can overcome.

Our Redeemer’s task, given to him by his Father, was, in the words of St. Paul in his Letter to Titus, to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people of his own. To break sin’s hold on us, the Lord embraced the cross. At three in the afternoon on that first Good Friday Satan danced with delight, but his apparent victory was short-lived, as the Father vindicated his Son by his resurrection on Easter Sunday morning.

Satan’s determined efforts to snuff out the true light failed. Emmanuel is with us always, and we who have been bathed in that light thanks to the water of baptism carry within us the presence of Jesus. But many still walk in darkness, because evil has yet to surrender to love. Even some who bear the name of Christian have been seduced by the false allurements that Satan so cleverly disguises.

The true peace that came down to this world from heaven on that first Christmas must be proclaimed. You and I and every Christian are the ones God has chosen for this work. Sisters and brothers, may we who we are bathed in Jesus’ light not only allow it to illumine our minds but also to shine through in our deeds. In this way, we do our part in conquering the wickedness of the earth that manifests itself as greed, war, capital punishment, abortion, joblessness, bigotry, hunger, homelessness, despair, and suicide. In this way we make a home in our hearts for the Prince of Peace, who empowers us, through prayer, eucharist, penance, and the other sacraments to forgive, practice patience, give without counting the cost, and love others as Jesus loves us.

It was to lowly shepherds that the angel of the Lord proclaimed the infant Savior’s birth. They bore witness to it, and so do we. “I will not be silent,” Isaiah declares to the returned exiles, for his people need to be reminded of all that God has done for them and will do. Silence isn’t for us, either. Boldly and fearlessly, let us be Christ for others and share with them good news of great joy that is for people everywhere: Jesus humbled himself to share in our humanity so that we might share in his divinity. He has saved humans from their sins through his victory over evil.

-December 21, 2014

-December 14, 2014
There once was a man who had abandoned his wife and their two young children. That had been 30 years before, and now he was dying of cancer. The woman he’d taken up with so long ago had in her turn forsaken him. The only option he saw for himself was to go back to his first wife. He believed she’d forgiven him, despite the terrible wrong he had done her and their kids. Though he was a deeply-flawed and self-centered man, he felt great sorrow over what he had done to his family, along with the many other wrongs that weighed him down. So, taking a deep breath, he phoned her.

Fay had never remarried. For years anger and deep hurt had burdened her, but God helped her let go of them. When her ex contacted her to say he was dying and without any resources, she couldn’t believe how calmly she responded. Hearing his voice brought a flood of emotions, but she heard him through and said she’d get back to him soon. The kids and their spouses expressed amazement at his chutzpah but said they’d support any decision she made.

How could she not take him in? That’s where prayer led her. So he came home, and she nursed him until he passed away three months later. During the course of those months they found reconciliation and a quiet joy and peace.

On this Gaudete Sunday, we rejoice that soon the Church’s celebration of the festival of Jesus’ birth will be upon us. We hear this note of joy in our verses from Isaiah, as the prophet says, “I rejoice heartily in the Lord.” It’s also in St. Paul’s first Letter to the Thessalonians, in which he urges us to “rejoice always.” In our responsorial psalm, taken from Luke’s gospel, Mary tells Elizabeth, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

God wills that such joy and rejoicing be ours, too. And so Jesus was born, suffered crucifixion, and was raised from the dead, to bridge the huge chasm that our sinfulness had excavated between us human beings and God. By means of the reconciliation that the Father brought about in Jesus, he erased all that separated us from him.

That’s why in the same breath we can speak of rejoicing and sin, which normally have nothing in common.

The Israelites had been even more unfaithful to God than Fay’s husband had been to her. Yet, in our reading from Isaiah we hear that God has forgiven them and brought them back to the promised land after 50 years of exile in Babylon. Along with the prophet, the people of Israel rejoice heartily in the Lord, and the joy of their soul is in God.

St. Paul calls on all of us, whose sin formerly had separated from God---sin as lamentable as that of the ancient Israelites’---to rejoice always, because we have been cleansed in baptism.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us rejoice! If I haven’t been much of a Christian lately, I still am to rejoice in God’s love and mercy. Yes, I treated a store clerk rudely. Yes, I ignored a homeless man asking for help. Yes, I cussed out another driver. Yes, I behaved coldly toward a friend who for months hadn’t returned my phone calls and e-mails. Yes, in my impatience I gave it to my doctor with both barrels after he’d kept me waiting an hour.

If you and I haven’t been very Christian lately, we have the opportunity today to become better disciples of Jesus, whose love for us eclipses our understanding. We’re to make use of these remaining Advent days to do precisely this. I also encourage you to take advantage of the communal penance service that our parish and SS. Peter & Paul will hold there today at 3 p.m.

As much as Fay’s love and mercy amazed her kids, all the more should we be in awe of the way God treats us. And then, empowered by eucharist, may we reconciled sinners reveal our joy and put into practice with others the very same divine love and mercy.

-December 7, 2014
When the words we heard today from the prophet Isaiah were being written, the people of Israel were still in captivity in Babylon. There was no reason to expect that they would be returned to their own country, or that the city of Jerusalem and the Temple would be rebuilt. Still, Isaiah tells them to remain hopeful, and to prepare for God to come in power to save them. They were eventually set free to return home and rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple.

By the time of John the Baptist, Israel had been conquered again, this time by Rome. “Prepare the way of the Lord,” John was telling the people; do not lose hope, our God is coming to bring us salvation. He was heralding the arrival of Jesus, who freed people not from the power of Rome, but from the power of Satan.

After the death and Resurrection of Jesus, his followers were waiting for Him to return and finish establishing His Kingdom. By the end of the first century, some were beginning to think that He was not going to return. Peter writes to remind them, and us, that God is not bound by our measurement of time. Rather than delaying the end, God is being patient with us, so that everyone can repent and be saved. We should not lose hope, because Jesus will return to not just establish a new Kingdom on earth, but to create new heavens and a new earth. Wait!

The evangelist Mark starts his account of the life of Jesus with, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” Is he simply telling us that this is the first line of his account; or, is he telling us that this entire account is the beginning of the gospel (that is “good news”) that has not ended yet? The good news does not end until Christ returns and fully establishes His Kingdom. But that is not the end of the good news either; that is even more good news. Our hope is based on the promise that Jesus Christ has brought salvation, not just to the Jews but to all people, and that He will return to not just establish a new kingdom but to create new heavens and a new earth. We hope for, and we ask God to establish His Kingdom now while we wait. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer we ask that “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven,” right now, beginning with me.

Isaiah, Peter, and Mark all tell us that we are waiting for God to fully establish His Kingdom. But this is not waiting like waiting for the bus, or waiting for the alarm clock to go off. This is like waiting for an important house guest to arrive. If the pope is coming over for supper, would you wait by sitting in front of the television or reading a magazine? Would you not be getting things ready, cleaning up, setting the table, making sure everything is just right? Isaiah, Peter, and Mark tell us how we are to wait for Christ’s return. We are to “prepare the way of the Lord.”

Isaiah tells us that we are to comfort one another with the knowledge of God’s forgiveness. We are to fill in the valleys and level the hills that stand between us and God. We are to proclaim that God is here to feed us, to gather us together, and to carry us. What are we doing to acknowledge that God provides for us and to provide for others, to break down the barriers that separate us from God and one another?

Peter says that we are to practice holiness and devotion, to wait for and hasten the establishment of God’s Kingdom, and be eager to be found with spot or blemish before Him. Are we spending time every day in prayer, practicing devotions like novenas and the rosary, confessing our sins and changing our behavior?

The Baptist shows us how to prepare. He lives in the desert, wears camel hair sweaters, and eats insects. He wants nothing to do with the prevailing attitudes and styles of the corrupted society. Do we live differently from the world around us in such a way as to build up the Kingdom of God in and around ourselves; or, do we conform ourselves to the norms and morals of the world? Our baptism gives us access to the grace, the divine help that we need to live as citizens of God’s Kingdom.

We are baptized into the Kingdom of God. Our hope is in God’s promise of new heavens and a new earth. We wait in hope for God’s Kingdom to be fully realized when Christ returns.

What are we doing to hasten the coming of the Kingdom?
What are we doing to prepare God’s way?
We wait in hope for God’s Kingdom. What are we doing to prepare His way?

May God Prepare Your Heart for Christmas,
Deacon Bob

-November 30, 2014
To you, I lift up my soul, O my God.
In you I have trusted; let me not be put to shame.
Nor let my enemies exult over me;
and let none who hopes in you be put to shame.
These verses from Psalm 25 serve as the entrance antiphon for today’s Mass, an antiphon we would have recited except that our opening hymn took its place. What I find especially significant in it is the last line: “And let none who hopes in you be put to shame.”

Hope. What an essential quality that is. In fact, it’s awfully hard to live without hope.

A year or two ago a pair of South American men decided, on the spur of the moment and unbeknownst to their families, to go out in a small boat to do some fishing. Their motor failed, and the currents swept them out into the vast ocean. Within hours they no longer could see the coastline. Weeks of hunger and thirst, sunburn and fear passed by, as they struggled to survive on the few fish they were able to catch and the meager amount of rainwater they could capture.

Both men were strong and fit, but six weeks after the start of their ordeal, one succumbed to despair and died. The other clung to the hope of seeing his mother again. He passionately wanted to spare her the grief his disappearance and presumed death would bring. And this hope sustained him until, many weeks later, at last a freighter happened upon him and rescued him.

That surviving castaway dared to hope he’d see his mother again. You, I, and every Christian also dare to hope for something incredible: that we will number among those raised from the dead and granted the gift of eternal life. As today’s preface to the eucharistic prayer reminds us, during Advent we watch for the day when we will inherit this great promise. And what is that day? The day when Jesus comes again in glory and majesty.

What confronts us isn’t the daunting prospect of hunger, thirst, and a watery death when a day’s outing on a fishing boat takes a tragic turn. Instead we contend with mundane preoccupations that wear us down: Finding the money to send your child to Trinity High School. Has the cancer has been caught in time? Yet one more job prospect scratched off the list. How much longer can I care for mom and stave off the day for putting her in a nursing home? Fear that someone we love might get caught up in the racism, anger, and violence in our society. Concerns about the Church’s well being.

Living without hope is well-nigh impossible. Hope is what keeps the Israelites going in our reading from Isaiah. It’s about 500 years before Jesus’ birth, and a large group of the exiles have made their way back home, their freedom granted them by the Persian king who conquered the Babylonians. Weary, hungry, and destitute, they find their temple, cities, and land in ruins, thanks to the Babylonian army that conquered them 50 years before.

They know this is their own doing, because in their sinfulness they had not clung to the Lord. They cry out to God, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for.”

Their hope was in the Lord, who had brought their ancestors out of slavery in Egypt, made a covenant with them at Mt. Sinai, and guided them to the promised land. Surely God would remain true to his ages-old promise that they always would be his people. God indeed was faithful, unlike his sinful people, and enabled them to rebuild their land.

Our hope is built on that very same love God has for us, a love revealed in its fullness by Jesus’ cross and resurrection; a hope born of our confidence in God fidelity to his promise. Hope is at the center of Advent. It is founded on the same promise God made to Abraham three millennia ago and then to his descendants at Mt. Sinai. He would never abandon his people to sin and death, and so his Son was born as one like us, sacrificed himself on a cross, and was raised.

As a people baptized into our Savior’s death and resurrection, our hope is not of this world. Rather, our hope is anchored in a higher realm and moves us to busy ourselves with the work Jesus left us when he ascended to the right hand of his Father. Let us apply ourselves to this work, for in doing so we heed Jesus’ command to be watchful and alert for the day of his return.

-November 23, 2014
Last Sunday’s passage about the talents taught that putting to good use the gifts God has given us will win us a rich reward when the Lord returns in glory, while burying those gifts will bring down a terrible punishment. Today’s readings once again look to Jesus’ second coming at the end times.

Giving back double what was entrusted to them left the first two servants sitting pretty in last week’s verses from Matthew. Now we learn that blessed will those people be who behaved mercifully towards their brothers and sisters in need. All who recognize Jesus as King of the Universe will pursue this way of life.

Pope Pius XI established this feast in 1925, which was a time when Communism had gained control in Russia, Mussolini and his fascists were ruling Italy, and the stage was being set for the Nazis under Hitler to ascend to power in Germany. Such evil movements were the polar opposite of Christ’s way of love. Pius wanted to remind the Church that the darkness so evident in these regimes could not endure when confronted with the light of Christ’s kingship.

When I think of a king, the person who comes to mind is Henry VIII of England, that tyrannical 16th century monarch who was responsible for the beheading of two of his wives and the execution of many other people for remaining loyal to the Catholic Church after he had broken away from it.

Plenty of kings fell into despotic ways throughout history, but the office of king arose because the people needed protection. That was the fundamental role of the king. That idea is evident in our reading from Ezekiel, which comes from a passage in which God sharply rebukes the kings of Israel for being bad shepherds. In Scripture it isn’t uncommon for the king to be symbolized as a shepherd, whose job was to watch over the sheep, bringing them back safely to the sheepfold every night.

The ideal king was to safeguard his subjects. That also is the role of Christ the King and explains why he was born into the world. He came to find the many sheep who were lost and, guiding them in the right path, lead them to the house of the Lord in heaven.

The universal King instructed his subjects in the ways of goodness and kindness by his own life, as he forgave sinners, healed the sick, raised the dead, cast out demons, taught his disciples how to pray, and obeyed his Father in all things, even to the extent of sacrificing. himself on the cross.

One day the Lord’s second coming will take place. May it be soon! Then we will see how the darkness that we still see in the world retreats before his brilliant light and is completely extinguished. All our King’s faithful subjects have nothing to fear when he separates all people on the basis of their loving the neediest, with whom he fully identifies himself.

Let us, his sheep, always listen to our Shepherd’s voice as he leads us along the right paths, the paths of mercy and love. Then will our cup overflow and the heavenly table be spread with a rich feast, as we enjoy the fullness of the banquet that we taste in a small way in eucharist.

-November 16, 2014
Recently I saw the 2005 movie The Greatest Game Ever Played, which prompted me to read the book by the same title. It’s a golf story and concerns the highly dramatic 1913 U.S. Open, which for the first time was won by an amateur. His name was Francis Ouimet, a 20-year-old who had grown up across the street from the Boston area golf course where the open was held. His chief opponent and the man expected by most to win was the British champion Harry Vardon, a professional golfer with many victories to his credit. Both played brilliantly, thrilling the spectators and helping to popularize the game, which at that time was pursued mostly by wealthy people rather than the common man, represented by Ouimet and Vardon.

Golf is not my game, and I pay little attention to it. But this wonderful story is a lesson in what a person can accomplish through determination and the honing of his or her skills. Both Ouimet and Vardon were blessed with great talent. According to the book there were golfers competing in that open whose natural talent was of an even higher order. However, these two men had applied themselves so diligently to sharpening their skills that they bested all of the opposition.

Endowed with incredible gifts physically and mentally, they developed them to an extraordinary degree, transforming them by their devotion and practice.

Those who relish golf or bowling or tennis hopefully aren’t content with their performance but strive to improve. They long to excel! Like the servant entrusted with five talents (5,000 silver pieces) and who presents his master with double this amount, such athletes want to show a big return on all those abilities inherent in them on the day they were born.

May the same be true of you and me in regard to our Christian faith. At baptism the Holy Spirit took up residence within us, intent on guiding us to place our gifts at God’s service. This parable teaches us that our goal must be to maximize those gifts. If instead we allow them to languish, such that when we die and find ourselves before the Lord we present him with exactly what he’d entrusted to us at the start, God will punish us severely. Such is the fate of the servant who chose to bury the single talent placed in his care.

No more than you would be content with a $10,000 investment that after 10 years hadn’t grown at all will it be acceptable to God if you return to him only what he placed in your safekeeping on the day of your birth. So this parable warns us.

Each year as the liturgical calendar comes to a close, we hear readings about the end times, when Jesus will return in glory. There is a definite note of this in our verses from Paul’s first Letter to the Thessalonians. In them he calls on us to remain alert for Christ’s Second Coming, which he says will descend upon us without warning.

That our parable concerns a landowner who departs on a journey and returns only after much time has passed indicates that this passage also concerns the end times. The master stands for Jesus, whose long absence began with his ascension into heaven and whose return will bring about universal judgment.

When our divine master comes again, every human being will face a reckoning, just like the three servants in the parable. The words we want to hear are, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Come, share your master’s joy.” Therefore, let us work diligently to sharpen our Christian talents: our compassion, our willingness to help others carrying a heavy burden, our forgiveness, our generosity to the poor, our hunger for peace and justice, and our desire to draw ever nearer to God. By exercising them as Francis Ouimet and Harry Vardon practiced their golf swings, we will multiply all that God blessed us with at birth and be granted the gift of eternal life.

-November 9, 2014
I want to make a distinction between “The Church” and church buildings.

Is this building in which we worship “The Church?” If this building ceased to exist, would we still be part of “The Church?” If all the church buildings in the world were to suddenly crumble, would “The Church” still exist? If all the members of The Church were to suddenly cease to exist, but all the church buildings remained standing, would the Church on Earth still exist? No, because The Church is the people of God, not the buildings. Yet today we celebrate the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, a church building. Here is why:

In the early days of Christianity, and still in some places today, the world was determined to prevent Christianity from spreading. First there were persecutions by the Jewish authorities, then by Roman emperors, and to this day some groups are intolerant of Christian values. Sometimes Christians were tolerated, sometimes threatened, never legally sanctioned. Then, early in the fourth century, the Roman emperor Constantine made it legal to practice the Christian faith. He gave his palace on the Lateran Hill to the bishop of Rome as the bishop’s residence and cathedral. Since that day, the Basilica of St. John Lateran has been the cathedral church of Rome, and the official cathedral of the pope. Today we are celebrating the feast of that church’s dedication; the first church building in the Roman Church.

As the successor of Peter, the bishop of Rome has held a prominent position among all the bishops and represents their unity; and so, the cathedral of Rome, the Lateran Basilica, represents the unity of all the cathedrals. That building is a symbol representing all the church buildings within the Roman Catholic Church. What is it that makes these church buildings so important? We celebrate more than simply the official recognition of the Roman Catholic Church by the Emperor Constantine, as important as that is. As St. Paul says that “you are God’s building” and “you are the temple of God.” So, we celebrate not the church building itself, but rather what it represents.

The Church is the people of God who are members of the Body of Christ. The church building is the place where the people of God gather. It is the place where this family gathers to share bread and wine that become the real body and blood of Christ. They are buildings set aside, consecrated for the sole purpose of giving God’s people a place to gather for worship. It is important that this building be built of stone to represent the solidity and permanence of God’s love for us, our covenant, and the Church itself. Jesus himself says “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”

Our most beautiful church buildings are adorned with images reminding us that when we gather within their walls we are surrounded by the angels and saints who have gone before us and share our faith. We join them at the wedding feast of the Lamb, described in the Book of Revelation. They join us in worshiping our God. We join our voices to theirs in singing “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts.”

Our churches are places where the Most Holy dwells. Our tabernacles, prefigured by the Ark of the Covenant, contain bread consecrated at Mass, no longer simple bread, but the Real Presence of Christ, the Body and Blood of Jesus. God the Son is physically present to us here in this place, constantly. It is the same Jesus who is Present in every tabernacle in every Catholic church on the planet, in the tabernacle in this building, in the tabernacle over at Sts. Peter and Paul, in tabernacles in Australia, and in the Lateran Basilica in Rome.

And, when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, which we will do in a short while, we also become tabernacles containing the Real Presence of Christ. We too become temples of God. So it is that St. Paul can write “The temple of God, which you are, is holy.” You and I are temples of God. You and I are holy. Which raises the question, do we treat one another like temples of God containing the Presence of Jesus? Do we treat our own bodies like temples of God?

Our church buildings need routine maintenance. They need to be kept clean. They sometimes need repairs. Jesus went into the Jerusalem Temple and threw out the money changers and merchants. Do we remember that there are more important things than money and the things that money can buy? Are we like the temple described by Ezekiel from which clear, clean water flows making fruitful plants grow in the desert and filling the Dead Sea with fresh water, giving life everywhere it flows?

Celebrating the Dedication of the Lateran Cathedral today calls us to remember that
“the temple of God, which you (and I) are, is holy.”
The temple of God, which you are, is holy. (1 Corinthians 3:17)

Deacon Bob

-November 2, 2014 - All Souls Day
H.G. Wells, Chairman Mao, Nietzsche, Karl Marx, and Napoleon Bonaparte. They all have something in common: In the words of our reading from the Book of Wisdom, for them passing away was an affliction and going forth from the world utter destruction, because as professed atheists they had no belief in the afterlife.

We who number among Jesus’ disciples, however, possess a hope that is full of immortality. That’s because we are confident that with death life is not ended but changed, thanks to our Savior’s acceptance of death so that we might live forever. And so All Souls’ Day is a day for celebration, as we remember our loved ones who have died and call to mind the hope we have for them and for ourselves, that one day we will number among the Communion of Saints, like the holy people represented by these statues arrayed before us.

What a tremendous gift from God this is, given to us thanks to Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection!

But this hope wasn’t always the case. From time immemorial humanity had lived in fear of death, as we hear in these words from Psalm 116, “I was caught by the cords of death; the snares of Sheol had seized me; I felt agony and dread.” And this is what Psalm 49 tells us: “Like sheep they are herded into Sheol, where death will be their shepherd. Straight to the grave they descend, where their form will waste away, Sheol will be their palace.”

Sheol was the shadowy, underworld place where the Israelites believed the dead dwelled. There all the promise that life holds was no more, like one sentenced to 100 years of imprisonment in a small, dark cell.

With such a threat hanging over you, imagine the birth of joy within you when you hear in our verses from John’s gospel, “Everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day.”

Jesus was born as one like us in order to make this promise. The responsibility is ours, given to us in baptism, to put flesh on the bones of this promise right now. When the psalms were written, some of them more than 1,000 years before Jesus’ time, there was no belief in an afterlife. Today there is a resurgence of hopelessness, for countless people still know nothing of Jesus Christ, while many who have been exposed to the Good News of Jesus put no stock in it, having drifted away from the fold. As a consequence, they fall back into slavery to sin.

Despair afflicts so many of these sisters and brothers of ours. That they encounter Christ today is crucial, and they do so on account of our loving service.

When we share our blessings with them to alleviate their hunger, accompany and shoulder some of their burden as they struggle to survive, comfort them in their illness, weep with them when they suffer loss or disappointment, then they experience the Lord’s love now, thus enabling them to hope that the fullness of that love will be theirs when they die. By such loving deeds and our willingness to share our faith, we inspire them to open their hearts to God, the source of that love, and to believe in his Son, who is the way, the truth, and the life.

On All Souls’ Day we gather not to grieve over our beloved dead but to celebrate our belief that their souls rest in God’s hand. The fullness of peace that isn’t to be found in this life is theirs. One day it also will be ours, if we accept the Lord’s kingship over us and remain steadfast in our effort to overcome sin, ever striving to be found worthy of God, as God makes possible through the Body and Blood of Christ that we soon will receive.

-October 26, 2014
Love of God and love of neighbor are wound together so completely that they cannot be separated, Jesus says in our passage today from Matthew’s gospel. Our challenge is to reject the temptation to do just that, and in this the scholar of the law provides an example we don’t want to follow.

Undoubtedly he knew precisely where to find the verses Jesus quotes: loving God with every fiber of your being comes from Deuteronomy 6: 5, and Leviticus 19: 18 requires loving your neighbor as yourself. These two laws weren’t new, though perhaps Jesus’ linking of them was.

The problem was that this scribe was not practicing these verses, though he should have been, as a leader among the Jewish people and someone very familiar with what these verses say. At this point in Matthew, opposition to Jesus has been mounting for some time among the scribes and Pharisees, chief priests and elders, who are plotting his downfall.

Certainly, love of neighbor doesn’t allow plots for the neighbor’s ruin. Love of God leads to love of neighbor, whom God created in God’s own image. Love of God isn’t a matter of feelings, though this is the understanding our culture typically has about love. Rather, love of God reveals itself in concrete action, demonstrated by good deeds towards other people, including one’s enemies. Therefore, this scribe’s determination to silence Jesus equates to rejecting God.

He was deceiving himself, which is a trap every human person is capable of setting for himself. The scribe would have been enraged to be accused of rejecting God. He probably viewed Jesus as a man set on destroying Judaism, perhaps even as one who hated God. Consequently, ridding the world of him was good thing. If only we never fell into this trap, but love of neighbor can be so hard, especially of a neighbor we find objectionable, and we readily can fail to appreciate that he or she is as precious to God as we ourselves.

There is many a person in our land who professes to love God says that it’s a bad idea to welcome into the U.S. immigrants and refugees fleeing violence and poverty in Latin America. Granted, there’s lots to argue about on this as a political issue, but the book that guides us as believers is quite clear about not oppressing aliens. If we do, our first reading says, God’s wrath will flair up and he will destroy us. It’s equally clear that the same fate will befall those who fail to provide for those in greatest need, represented in biblical times as widows and orphans.

Today would the U.S. welcome the Israelites who fled slavery in Egypt? Since love of God equates to love of neighbor, in an instance like this an impartial jury hardly could help but find the accused guilty of rejecting God, no matter how much they were to insist otherwise. And what would the jury’s verdict be on someone who poisons his or her kids towards the parent who is out of the picture due to divorce, or on an individual who is a racist? Even though they claim to love God.

When you think of Jake and Elwood Blues, played by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd in the film The Blues Brothers, the two are inseparable, just like those comic duos Laurel and Hardy and Abbot and Costello. Love of God and love of neighbor are even more inseparable, though in our sinfulness we humans are tempted to snip them apart, like that scholar of the law. Sad to say, God’s ways all too often aren’t ours.

This is evident in those who seek to love their neighbor without loving God, whose existence they deny. This approach is doomed, for we ourselves can’t fix broken humanity and will give up in bitter disappointment without God’s help. A loving relationship with God sustains us and is essential if we are to stay on course, for his love undergirds all that we do.

On the other hand, if we apply ourselves to loving God while ignoring our neighbor, that sort of love is false. True love of God can’t help but overflow into love of neighbor. As we hear in the First Letter of John, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
The third option, loving only oneself and rejecting God and neighbor, is another ancient practice. For eons all three have had many adherents, leading humanity down the road to destruction. The only remedy was for God to show us the way, “and so the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

It is this Word whom the self-deceived scribe, skilled in snipping apart love of God and love of man, wanted to eliminate. Let us, tempted as we are to do the same sort of snipping, join ourselves to Christ through his Body and Blood, so that we may love the brother and sister we see and thus love the God we have not seen.

-October 19, 2014
Faith is our green card.

You know about green cards, the government document that states a foreign-born person is permitted to legally reside and work in the U.S. Anybody who possesses this card numbers among the chosen who needn’t fear being forced to return to his or her land of birth, where perhaps religious or ethnic persecution could bring death or poverty breed despair. Qualifying for such a card can be quite difficult. Some people, out of fear that they’ll not be chosen, go so far as to enter into a sham marriage with a U.S. citizen or volunteer for years of service in the U.S. military.

Chosen, too, were the Christians in Thessalonica, as St. Paul reminds them in today’s second reading. They heard the gospel and believed. But he emphasizes that not just in word did the gospel come to them but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction. The message of faith isn’t simply a lot of words.

For us who live in the U.S., don’t we understand the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as far more than just an assortment of words? They are powerful in the convictions they express. Due to them immeasurable blood was spilled during the American Civil War and in other wars since. The civil rights movement grew out of them. As long as this nation exists, differing interpretations of these foundational documents will clash, because they powerfully impact our lives.

For us Christians, the Good News of Jesus Christ is of infinitely greater consequence. St. Paul wants his listeners to appreciate that the faith they have received is absolutely priceless. How could anything else be valued more, considering that it joins us to God as his very children? As a green card qualifies the bearer for residence in the U.S., faith fashions us as citizens of the Kingdom of God.

At every Mass we remember what Jesus said to his disciples at the Last Supper: “Take this all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body, which will be given up for you,” followed by his offering of the cup that represented his blood to be shed. Rather than mere words, aren’t these a powerful expression of conviction for us? And when we receive communion, aren’t we taking Jesus himself and not just a wafer of bread and a sip of wine?

“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” Surely this verse from Psalm 23 is far more than words but is a statement of conviction that God leads us always.

“Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but he has been raised.” Don’t we bet our lives on what the angels said to the women who went to Jesus’ tomb that first Easter Sunday? If these are just words, why are we gathered here right now?

“And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind. . . . Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire. . . . And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues.” The same Spirit that produced this wonder burns within us today, because these words communicate the truth that God is at work in the world through the Body of Christ, the Church.

Sisters and brothers, as Christians we have been chosen, and not just in word has the gospel come to us but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction. Faith is our green card for heaven, and every person craves it, whether they know it or not. Therefore, with power and spiritual conviction, having been fed with our Savior’s Body and Blood, let us share the priceless gift of faith.

-October 12, 2014
Imagine that you get an invitation from the governor to attend his daughter’s wedding. The invitation says that the wedding will take place in one month, and you should return the response card within a week. Suppose you ignore the invitation and throw it in the trash. A week later, you get a phone call from the governor’s secretary: “We didn’t receive your rsvp, are you coming to the wedding?” “No,” you say, “I’m busy that day.” A week later someone from the governor’s office shows up at your door with another invitation. “I said I’m not coming, leave me alone,” you say.

How likely is that scenario? If you were invited to a banquet at the governor’s mansion, would you ask first to see the menu before accepting? Would you ask to see the guest list? That is how some of the people in today’s parable acted. They do not care how lavish the banquet may be, they are not interested.

Isaiah tells us about a “feast of rich food and pure, choice wines” provided for “all peoples” by the Lord. Jesus tells a story about a king (God) who throws a “wedding feast for his son” to which, in the end, everyone is invited. But some people are not interested, some are too busy, some even get angry and kill the messenger when the invitation comes a second time. We would never do that, would we?

We are all invited to a heavenly banquet at the end of time, that will last for eternity. Isaiah tells us, and the Book of Revelation echoes that it will be a time with no more pain, no more suffering, no more tears; and, the feast will be luxurious with plenty of delicious food and choice wines. That may not be a literal description of heaven, but the imagery is wonderful.

When we gather here for Mass, we begin to enter that heavenly feast. We are joined here by angels and saints in singing “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord.” Our Communion is a sharing in the wedding feast of the Lamb.

God’s invitation to the banquet includes an invitation to join us here every Sunday (or Saturday evening) and celebrate the wedding feast. But some people are too busy. Think of the excuses. “I have too much work to do.” “Sunday morning is the only time I get to sleep in.” “Saturday evening is the only time I can get together with my friends.” The list is endless. We get so very distracted by all the events of daily life that we lose sight of eternity. But we are all invited to the wedding feast, so when the time comes that there are no more excuses, and we come to the banquet, is God going to say, “You did not want to spend one hour a week with Me until now, so I guess you are not really interested in spending eternity with Me. I do not want to force myself on you, so don’t come into heaven.” Can you guess what the alternative is?

Yes, God wants everyone to be saved. God wants everyone to come to the feast. God loves each and every one of us. But God also respects our decisions. If we do not want to spend time with God now, God will not force us to spend eternity with Him. Or, perhaps that would be Hell for some people.

Jesus tells the story about how everyone is invited, which is marvelous, except for those people who were too busy to be interested. And then, he ends the story with a surprise twist. Someone showed up without his “wedding garment.” What might that mean? Could this be a clue: During the baptismal ritual, the newly baptized person is given a “white garment” and told, “You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity…bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.” St. Paul tells us to clothe ourselves in Christ, and to “put on the armor of Christ.” These all point toward living a true Christian life of loving service, self-sacrificing service. If we are properly clothed for the banquet, it will show. Our lives could become an invitation for others to come to the feast.

Everyone is invited to the wedding feast, but not all are chosen. Not all who are invited respond to the invitation. Not all who are invited respect the messengers. Not all who are invited come properly prepared.

Are you prepared for the wedding feast of the Lamb?

Deacon Bob

-October 5, 2014
Heartbroken. That’s what Dorothy and Stan were. Able to have just one child, Jacob, they had lavished him with love. In turn he was a loving son. However, in high school he changed. The crowd he associated with was into drugs, and soon enough so was Jacob. To fuel his addiction he started to steal from his parents. The help they tried to give him was to no avail, and now they don’t even know where he is, whether he’s homeless, or even whether he is alive.

As Stan and Dorothy did for Jacob, so God had done for his Chosen People, giving them freedom from slavery, a covenant, the Promised Land, the prophets, and ultimately his own Son. The parable in today’s passage from Matthew’s gospel is a story of divine heartbreak. Israel is the vineyard, but the people to whom God leased it showed no gratitude. When God sent the prophets to remind them to present him the fruit of the vineyard, which was their loving service, they beat and even killed them. When they went so far as to kill Jesus, then the vineyard was given to other tenants, the Gentiles.

The enticements of this world blinded so many of the Israelites to the greatest of gifts, their relationship with God. They chose to live for themselves not for him. Like them and every human being, we too are in danger of being mesmerized by earthly attractions. That’s the effect of sin.

Heartbreak isn’t what we want to inflict on God. Rather, let us warm his heart by giving him the produce that we owe on account of the many gifts that have been bestowed on us.

This weekend St. Therese Parish is holding its annual Ministry Fair. In the church hall the members of the numerous groups active in our faith community have set up tables. I invite you to check them out after Mass. Getting involved in one or another of them is a way you can be a good tenant in the vineyard.vv In the pews you will find copies of the parish’s stewardship commitment form. The Catholic Church understands Christian stewardship as receiving God’s gifts gratefully, cherishing and tending them in a responsible and accountable manner, sharing them in justice and love with all, and returning them with increase to the Lord. We make a return to God by sharing generously of our time, talent, and treasure, the three categories you’ll see on our stewardship form.

Time is one. You and I find ourselves so lacking in time, due to the many demands of our jobs, families, interests, and other commitments. Let us not shortchange God on the time we owe him. Attending Mass, participating in eucharistic adoration, setting aside a 15-minute chunk of time for prayer every day at home, reading the Bible; these are ways to warm God’s heart by our use of time. So are serving your parish as a eucharistic minister, reader, usher, choir member, or greeter.

Talent is another category of stewardship. Use your love of reading in a tutoring program, to benefit folks whose poor reading skills handicap them. If sports are your passion, volunteer as a coach for CYO. Someone who gets satisfaction out of cleaning might assist an elderly neighbor in keeping her home tidy or volunteer to help clean the church. Are you a person who values friendships? Then offer your friendship to someone who’s lonely. If you have a knack for organizing, volunteer to serve on the parish Stewardship Committee, the Social Concerns Commission, or a civic organization.

Having been given the priceless treasure of faith, take the risk of speaking about it when the opportunity presents itself. That might happen as you console a co-worker whose spouse has died, sharing how God worked in your life in a similar situation.

Creation is a gift from God each of us enjoys, so let’s protect it by car-pooling, when possible riding our bicycles instead of driving, picking up litter, and pressing Congress to pass laws that protect the environment.

Treasure is the third aspect of stewardship. Money is a sensitive subject, but Jesus didn’t shy away from urging people to practice great generosity in their almsgiving, and tithing is what the Bible calls for. Many of us are fortunate to enjoy financial well-being in one form or another. Giving proportionately of that is a part of the produce God requires of us; and that giving should be sacrificial, meaning it comes from the top and not from what’s left over. The Church suggests that five percent of gross income be given to the parish collection, one percent to Catholic Charities, and four percent to needy family members, Catholic school tuition, or other charities.

“It is a duty and honor for Christians to return to God a portion of the good things they have received from God,” Vatican II points out. Following in the way of Jesus is incredibly challenging, but let us be true to this, always remembering that he gave completely of himself in his suffering and death, only to be exalted by his resurrection and ascension.

The vineyard has been leased to you, me, and our other brothers and sisters in Christ, on the condition that we give God the produce. May we warm God’s heart by our sacrificial giving. Please pray for guidance as you consider what God is asking of you as a good steward, then complete the stewardship form and bring it back next weekend.

-September 28, 2014
Two trees were standing side-by-side in the park. The elm was much larger than the dogwood and beautiful to behold, while the dogwood looked rather stunted and spindly, showed dead branches here and there, and sported a weather-worn sign reading, “Please clean up after your dog.”

Three years later a passerby would see a stump where the elm once grew, and the dogwood still putting out its leaves and hosting birds. It still wasn’t a handsome tree but did look more presentable. That’s because the old sign was gone and so were the dead branches, which had been trimmed away when the elm was cut down. The tree expert had told the commissioner of parks that removing it was essential because for at least five years an infestation of beetles had been consuming it from within, and now it was a hazard.

The elm tree symbolizes the chief priests and elders and the dogwood the tax collectors and prostitutes. Though the priests and elders made a good appearance in the places of honor they occupied in the temple in Jerusalem, Matthew depicts many as rotting away spiritually. On the other hand, no-goods like tax collectors and prostitutes, the sort of notorious sinners reviled by the Jews who saw themselves as devout, were embraced by Jesus.

By this point in the gospel, for quite a while Jesus has been teaching and performing wondrous deeds in order to proclaim that God’s kingdom is at hand. His challenge to his listeners is to do God’s will, which is what being righteous involves. Opposition to him among the religious leadership has become ever fiercer, especially since his entrance into Jerusalem. Shortly afterwards had come his symbolic cleansing of the temple, which had been infected by corruption, thanks to many of the chief priests and elders.

They have challenged Jesus’ actions, prompting the parable we heard today. These men are supposedly examples of holy living, for don’t they hold their important offices because they say yes to what God asks of them? However, really they are the ones who refuse to follow God’s will. How clear this will become, as we observe them engineer Jesus’ crucifixion.

They detest Jesus for numerous reasons, one of which is his invitation to such notorious sinners as tax collectors and prostitutes to follow him. Anyone who lives as such people do is clearly a sinner and says no to God, they believe. Yet it is the likes of these who repent and reform their lives, and this explains why they will enter the kingdom of God while the chief priests and elders won’t.

The healthy-looking elm tree has to be chopped down, while the dogwood, so unimpressive in appearance, continues to grow. Which are we?

-September 21, 2014
Mike was the quarterback on the high school football team. Besides his athletic ability, he also was blessed with a keen intellect and a delightful personality. His classmates expected him to go far, and he has. A physician, he now leads his department in a very prestigious hospital.

While Mike was like a magnet at the class reunion, few people were drawn to Mary Ann. Many didn’t remember her, because as a teen she had been shy and retiring, standing out in no way at all. Some of the reunion-goers, when they returned home after an enjoyable evening, went to their senior yearbook to verify that indeed she had been among their number throughout high school.

“First come, first served” and “The last one in is a rotten egg” convey the basic idea associated with the words “first” and “last”. Everyone wants to be at the front of the line when meal time comes, and no one wants to likened to something that smells awful and gets you sick if you eat it. Mike has done well in life and so falls under the category of first, while Mary Ann is considered among the last for a whole variety of reasons.

Jesus’ words, “The last will be first, and the first will be last,” turn this understanding upside down. What’s he getting at?

He’s telling us that God looks at things differently than we human beings do, as suggested by the words from Isaiah in our first reading, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.” The prophet addresses a sinful people who deserve condemnation for turning away from God. Any human judge would indeed condemn them, but God shows them mercy, because God’s ways are different from ours.

Unlike us humans, God might say that Mary Ann is first and Mike is last. Why? Perhaps Mike is like those Christians who compare to the workers in Jesus’ parable who were hired early in the morning, labored hard all day, and resented the latecomers for receiving an equal amount of pay to theirs.

It’s good that we labor hard for the Lord, and the sooner we give ourselves to God in this way the better. But do we believe that as a result God owes us a place in heaven, especially in comparison to certain other Christians who appear to us as lacking? Jesus criticized some Pharisees for viewing themselves as better than notorious sinners like tax collectors. That the Pharisees sought to obey every law in the Scriptures was admirable. But Jesus said God favored those public sinners like tax collectors when they admitted their unworthiness and begged for mercy. At least they knew God owed them nothing, unlike those prideful Pharisees.

Heaven is God’s gift to us. We can never deserve it or consider it our just reward, no matter how much we do. We work hard in the vineyard so as to thank God for extending salvation to us.

Blessed are we when we bend our backs to our Christian work not for reward but simply out of love for God and gratitude for Jesus’ death and resurrection. Then God grants us what is beyond our ability to earn.

-September 14, 2014
We have so very much for which to be thankful; but we humans like to complain. In the summer it is too hot. In the winter it is too cold. It hasn’t rained in so long that everything in my garden is dying. When will it stop raining? It seems like we always have either too much, or not enough. We can always find something to complain about.

In the story of the Exodus, the Israelites travelling across the desert toward the Promised Land are frequently complaining. They complain that there is no food; so God gives them manna every morning. Then they complain that they are tired of only having bread to eat; so, God gives them quail every evening. Then they are thirsty; so, God gives them water from rocks. Today they complain that they are tired of Cheerios every morning, KFC every night, and nothing but water to drink. As a result of their constant complaining, their refusal to trust God, their sins, is an encounter with snakes whose bites are fatal. Their sin results in death.

When the people recognize and acknowledge their sin, God gives them a remedy. God doesn’t ask for the sacrifice of every family’s first-born son. There is no requirement for long involved fasting and ritual. All the people who have been bitten need to do is look at the bronze image of one of the serpents that Moses has lifted up on a pole. That sounds pretty simple; but remember what their sin was. They were complaining that God was not taking care of them. They were not trusting God. Now God says, “Just gaze on this image of a snake and you will be healed.” Just do this one simple, ridiculous thing and I will heal you. Do you think everyone listened, trusted, and obeyed? Gazing on that image would have resulted in each person seeing the reason for the serpents, seeing their own guilt, acknowledging their sinfulness, and submitting their will to God.

Jesus compares his own crucifixion to the lifting up of the bronze serpent. He says that “everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.” Jesus was nailed to the Cross for our sins. His crucifixion is the result of our disobedience. Sin, like the serpents’ bite, is deadly. The Cross is our remedy for the poison of sin. “God so loved the world,” that God’s own Son came into the world and became the sacrifice to pay for our sin. God the Son, who as God is immortal, became human and died for the salvation of the world He had created.

Because Jesus — who is, was, and always will be God the Son — emptied himself of his divinity, became human, and was obedient even to the point of death on the Cross, “God highly exalted him.” Jesus conquered the spiritual death our disobedience causes by his own obedience in embracing the Cross. God the Son came into the world so that we could nail him to a cross and thus he could become the remedy for our sin. When we gaze at the crucifix, we see Christ gazing back at us. We are reminded of our sinfulness and its effects, and also of God’s immense, forgiving love.

How do we respond to that Love?
How beautiful it is to stand before the Crucifix, to be under the Lord’s gaze, so full of love.*

Deacon Bob

*Pope Francis; @Pontifex, April 12, 2014; cit. Evangelium Gaudium N.265

-September 7, 2014
The first violent act recounted in the Bible is the murder of Abel, Adam and Eve’s second-born child, at the hands of Cain, their first-born, on account of jealousy. When the Lord was looking for Abel, he asked Cain where to find him, and Cain responded, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Our verses from Matthew’s gospel tell us that indeed we are our brother’s or sister’s keeper. We are to have a deep love for the members of our Christian family and to do all in our power to keep them from harm.

Harm often is self-inflicted, as when we sin. One aspect of acting as a sister’s or brother’s keeper is to seek to open their eyes to the danger they expose themselves to when they do wrong. We are to act thus because we want to preserve them as well as the faith community, which suffers when its members forget who they are.

In the New Testament a common image used for the Church is the human body. When a person’s body becomes infected in some way, do the white blood cells, which have the job of defending the body, examine the crisis to decide whether or not they’ll get involved? Of course not. Whether it’s a toe or an eye or the liver, the white blood cells will defend any part of the body that’s at risk.

So it must be with us, the members of the Body of Christ. Just as we love our bodies and want them to be healthy, so we love the Church and every person in it and promote their well being.

God calls on Ezekiel in our first reading to play the role of watchman or sentry. It’s around the year 600 B.C., and Israel is in a bad way, afflicted with great corruption and infidelity to its covenant with God. The prophet warns the leaders and the people, some of whom listen, and many of whom don’t. We too are to be watchmen.

In this we must practice care, because offering correction is a balancing act. We must make sure never to act from self-interest and always are to speak humbly, avoiding like the plague the attitude that we are holier than the other person. As Paul says in our second reading, the only thing we owe another is love. It is essential that love is the motivating factor when we seek to bring a wayward brother or sister back to the right path.

Jesus didn’t back away when Peter sought to dissuade him from accepting the suffering and death that awaited him. He rebuked him, as he rebuked the Jewish religious leaders for their hypocrisy. He did so to help them find true life. Let that desire always undergird our words and deeds, with the grace God bestows upon us through the eucharist we have come here to receive.

-August 31, 2014
This morning as I was eating breakfast in the rectory kitchen, Cindy Kiel, the parish secretary, walked in. When I commented that I still was trying to figure out what to write about in this column, she kiddingly suggested that my topic could be the wonderful rectory staff. I went on eating and reading the newspaper, giving no thought to her comment, but a few minutes later I realized that this was a good idea. Cindy began working here in 2005, assisting the full-time secretary, Rosemarie Tabor. When Rosemarie retired in 2009, I hired Cindy in her place. Debbie Radak joined the rectory staff in 2009 and now is the office manager. Both of them are wonderfully suited for their jobs, especially because they recognize that they are doing ministry. You’d be surprised how frequently their kind ways have soothed distressed people who call the rectory for help or come to the office heavily burdened. We see a lot of folks, both parishioners and others, seeking assistance from our St. Vincent de Paul Society chapter. The St. Vincent volunteers determine who qualifies and then responds with groceries, assistance with utilities or prescription expenses, etc. Often Cindy and Debbie are the go-betweens who hand the groceries to these needy brothers and sisters of ours. The compassion they experience at the hands of these two women might be what enables them to carry on at that particular moment. Of course, at times such a “client” or a parishioner whose feathers have been ruffled in some way can pose challenges to one’s patience. While Debbie and Cindy could testify to the truth of this statement, they typically receive from God the grace to practice patience.

One of Cindy’s responsibilities is to compose the weekly bulletin, which requires a goodly amount of time to finish. It’s likely that I have been helpful to her in growing in the virtue of patience, considering how often she has to remind me that she’s waiting for my column. Debbie’s talent for taking in stride the tasks that cause me to grind my teeth amazes me. When I’ve forgotten something I’m supposed to do, they remind me. They share with me what’s happening with their families. They are tolerant of my foibles. I am so thankful for these two members of the rectory family! Sandy Skul works one day per week, doing computer input, and Bernie Cermak serves as the secretary on Tuesday afternoon, when the office is open late (and also looks after the church sacristy). Pat Harmon began working in 1977 as the housekeeper for Fr. Mark Blinn and carried on in that capacity for Fr. Francis O’Linn and Fr. Norm Gajdzinski. Her institutional memory has come to my aid on many occasions. I’m forever in Pat’s debt for freeing me from doing grocery shopping and, most of all, for overseeing our parish’s bingo operation. She has done the latter for a long time, with the help of a superb corps of volunteers whom she’s assembled. Since my cooking talent is, let’s say, marginal, Pat also has come to my rescue for dinner parties that occur from time to time at the rectory. Jane Milczewski handles housekeeping and, almost as important, is blessed with a wonderful sense of humor. These good people bring joy to our parish rectory, and they serve this community well!

-August 24, 2014
Some of my most wonderful experiences as a priest have involved celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation. I didn’t expect this when I was ordained as a priest, but with each passing year it becomes increasingly clear to me what an incredible gift this sacrament is. God’s love shines through as a penitent tastes God’s forgiveness. On occasions when sin has been like a heavy ball and chain shackled to my leg, I know how blessed and light-hearted I’ve felt upon confessing my sins. The sacrament reminds me once again that God’s love blots out my every transgression; I’m starting out fresh! Maybe there have been times when your child, grandchild, spouse, or friend has come to you sore in heart, and God gives you the right words to speak. You just know God has used you as an instrument, because you never could have spoken that way on your own. Ask any priest, and I’ll bet that he’d tell you this frequently has been his experience in celebrating reconciliation.

I wish it weren’t so, but there are people who keep a wide berth between themselves and this sacrament, on account of bad memories they have about it. Perhaps some of you reading my column number among them. I hope that you will risk giving it another shot. You might choose to go to a priest you find to be a comfortable fit, or ask a Catholic friend for a suggestion. I think that every priest tries to practice the loving kindness and compassion of Christ, but obviously we sometimes fall short. Each parish has regularly-scheduled times for the sacrament, with the added option of arranging to see a priest in his office. Please take advantage of this golden opportunity to hear again that God’s love for you prevails over every sin that darkens your life

-August 17, 2014

-August 10, 2014
Taking risks is so hard to do. You step away from what is familiar to face the unknown, with failure as a very real consequence, but also victory.

One of the leaders of the Israelites in the centuries after they settled in the promised land but before the monarchy arose was Gideon. God called on him to defeat Midian, an ancestral foe of the Israelites who were causing great suffering through their attacks. Once he had gathered his warriors, the Lord told him to send a bunch home. Then the Lord decided there still were too many and cut their ranks even more. With this force, much smaller than the enemy’s, they attacked. The risk was great, but they won a tremendous victory.

God’s message to his people was that with him in their midst, they will accomplish wondrous things. That remains as true today as it was back then.

Jesus’ disciples have been with him for quite a while by this point in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 14. His fame has spread far, on account of the cures he has worked, the demons he has cast out, his teaching, his compassion towards the marginalized and sinful, and his feeding the hungry. To follow a man who performs such deeds is a great honor, but his disciples can’t help but see that trouble is coming their way. Their master has experienced rejection in his own home town. Many of the scribes and Pharisees, who exercise much influence, have grown antagonistic toward him. Not least of all, John the Baptist, with whom Jesus has much in common, has just been executed by the civil authorities.

In our passage today, the disciples struggle against the waves and strong winds that buffet their boat. In the Bible these forces of nature often symbolize the power of evil that threatens the human person. Jesus’ walking on the water is another revelation that he is God’s Son and conquers everything Satan throws at him and his Church.

What is unusual is Peter’s part in this scene, for we don’t find it in the parallel passage in Mark’s and John’s gospels. He takes a frightful risk by stepping out of the boat onto the stormy sea. Centuries earlier, Gideon took quite a risk in attacking the much larger army of his enemy. Many years after the man‘s time, David would put his life on the line when he engaged in individual combat with Goliath, the huge champion of the Philistines, mortal enemies of Israel. Long before the people of Israel were formed, Abraham gambled by accepting God’s invitation to leave the land of his ancestors on a journey he knew not where.

Risking everything by surrendering their lives to God is what people of faith always have done. Gideon ould have been defeated. David could have been killed by Goliath. Abraham and his band of nomads could have wandered into the wilderness and vanished without a trace. And Peter could have drowned. Nor should we forget Mary, who became pregnant with God’s Son when she was yet unmarried and could’ve been stoned to death for it.

We don’t know how a risk will turn out, at least in the short run. About the long-run result we have no doubt. After all, though John the Baptist lost his head, Jesus died on a cross, Sir Thomas More was put to death by King Henry VIII, and Fr. Maximilian Kolbe was killed by an injection of poison in a Nazi concentration camp, this wasn’t the end of the story. For Jesus was raised, and the Baptist, Thomas, and Maximilian are saints whose lives and sacrifice have inspired countless people.

Therefore, sisters and brothers, let us take the risk, like Gideon, David, Abraham, the Baptist, Thomas More, Maximilian Kolbe, and Simon Peter. Like my friend Eva, a single woman who adopted a child that had bounced from one foster family to another and gave her plenty of sleepless nights. Like Peggy, who gave up a high-paying job and entered the convent, even though her family begged her not to; who then left the religious life after two years as a novice and later met and married a disabled man.

Both women prayed long and hard and then took big risks, trusting that God wouldn’t abandon them. They’ve found that God hasn’t. Their journey is not done, of course. Eva doesn’t know what tomorrow holds for her and her daughter, nor does Peggy. Something could happen that might cause their loved ones and acquaintances to say to themselves, “You should have known better.”

We aren’t to play it safe as followers of Jesus. I’ll bet that every person here can relate to Peter’s faith, that wasn’t strong enough the moment when he stepped out onto the raging sea. But Jesus didn’t let him drown. Then 35 years later, as Peter died upside down on a cross in Rome, without doubt he found that his risk paid off.

May you and I take every risk, doing what we think is impossible as we serve God, believing that indeed we can walk on water.

-August 3, 2014
Should I stay put or go? That was the decision facing the Jewish exiles in Babylon in 538 B.C. and is echoed in our verses today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.

Cyrus and his Persians had recently overthrown the Babylonian kingdom, which, after destroying Jerusalem and much of the Jewish nation about 50 years before, had carted off into exile a huge chunk of the population.

Cyrus was allowing the Jews to return to Judah, the promised land. However, many of those who had endured the loss of their homes and the terrible journey to Babylon had died over the course of the ensuing decades. Certainly a large proportion of those still living were old and questioned how well they could endure the hardships that returning would impose. The Jews who had been born during the exile had only known Babylon as home. They had lots of reasons to remain.

Choosing whether to stay or go likewise was a decision that nagged at many members of the Church in the days of Matthew. Because the Roman Empire harbored lots of suspicions regarding the Church, life as a Christian involved the risk of having your property confiscated, as well as the risk of imprisonment and even execution. It happened that some families split apart because some members joined the Church and others didn’t. Worldly temptations lured some believers away.

Isaiah points out to his people that God gives freely of all a person needs: water and grain. He mentions wine and milk, which were symbols of abundance. God is calling on the Jews to take the risk of trusting him rather than the seeming security they’ve found in Babylon. They had suffered the exile because of their infidelity to the covenant God had entered into with them in Moses’ days, but God remained true to it. “Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life,” God says to them through the prophet.

As the promised land represents true life for the chosen people, you and I find it in Jesus. In our gospel verses, he takes pity on the vast crowd that seeks him out and cures their sick. Then, to satisfy their hunger, he performs a miracle in multiplying the loaves and fish. Not only does he feed 5,000 men, he provides for the women and children, too, numbering perhaps 20,000, with food left over.

This miracle reminds us of the eucharist, for in the crowd’s presence Jesus takes bread and breaks it and gives it to his disciples: the very language that is used at the Last Supper. Since the eucharist itself symbolizes the heavenly banquet, we are reminded that true abundance, as seen in the 12 baskets filled with leftover food, is found only in God.

We come here to experience a foretaste of the abundance of love, joy, and peace that will be ours in heaven. The attractions of this life can look mighty appealing, as did the comforts of Babylon to the Jewish exiles who had to choose whether to stay there or return to the promised land. God promised them abundance, as symbolized by wine and milk. We also are assured such abundance by God, whose Son’s miracle provided more than enough food to the hungry crowd. Worldly allurements can’t compare to eternal life with God.

That life, which we glimpse in the eucharist, will be ours if we faithfully serve the Lord. We see the disciples doing this, as they shared the multiplied loaves with the crowd. If we share with others what Jesus gives us: the Good News, love, mercy, and material blessings, we can be sure that we will be with him in Paradise.

-July 27, 2014
It is France in 1815, and Jean Valjean finds every door closed to him. Just released after many years working the prison galleys, a sentence imposed for stealing bread to feed his starving family, to be shut out like this only deepens his sense of anger and bitterness.

But then he does find a welcome, when he seeks shelter at what turns out to be the home of the local bishop. Bishop Myriel sees to it that he is fed and given a real bed to sleep on, his first in years.

Valjean, hardened so by his prison time, repays the bishop by stealing some silver dinnerware and running off. Apprehended and dragged back to the bishop, he knows he will be returned to the galleys. Therefore, he listens in dumb amazement as the bishop commands the police to release him, saying that the silver was his gift to Valjean. What’s more, he places two silver candlesticks in the stunned man’s hands, chiding him for forgetting to take them along at his earlier departure.

This marks Valjean’s first glimpse of the buried treasure of today’s first parable. That treasure is the kingdom of heaven; in other words, the centrality of God in a person’s life. The bishop’s Christian mercy and love have opened Valjean’s eyes to it. For the rest of his life he will give himself over to God’s will, so that he might be found worthy to possess that treasure revealed to him by the bishop.

Valjean is the hero of Victor Hugo’s great novel, Les Miserables. In the course of it, Valjean makes a fortune in business and uses it and his power to benefit his community. Wanted as a parole breaker, he reveals his true identity to save another man who is mistaken for him, even though that means he will be taken back to the brutal prison galleys. Escaping, he rescues a little orphaned girl from her cruel keepers and raises her as his own daughter, having promised the child’s dying mother that he would so do. He rescues his adopted daughter’s beau when the young man is badly wounded at the barricades by advancing soldiers during the Paris uprising in 1832. And he shows mercy to the police officer who has sought his destruction for years and who has fallen into his power.

Valjean is a Christ figure in the many sacrifices he makes for others. His transformation from an embittered man to one who reflects holiness and love to everyone who crosses his path results from discovering that buried treasure and entirely giving himself over to it.

As Bishop Myriel is the means by which this happens for Valjean, isn’t it so often true for each of us that another person has served as God’s instrument to reveal the kingdom of God to us? And throughout our lives we encounter others who model for us how to turn ourselves over entirely to that kingdom. Because of these people, we put on Christ more and more over time and play the part of the bishop for those who, like Valjean at the start of Les Miserables, have become disfigured by the cruelty they’ve endured and lost sight of God’s love.

My point is that you and I belong to a community whose role is indispensable. The Church is this community. Without Bishop Myriel, Valjean would have remained a lost soul. We as Church perform an essential task in making it possible for people to discover that buried treasure, the centrality of God in their lives.

Out of our shared worship at Mass flows a tremendous power that reveals this treasure. The divine love planted in our hearts at baptism is replenished through eucharist, so that we are able to live in a way that draws others to Christ. These great gifts, along with confession and our personal prayer, strengthen us to bear witness on countless occasions every day. A priceless treasure has been revealed to us. Let us reveal it to others.

-July 20, 2014

-July 13, 2014
We must hear and listen and understand, look and see. Let us not be guilty as those about whom Isaiah prophesied, who closed their ears, eyes, and hearts. “Blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear,” for we are seeing and hearing the Lord. We must be the seed sown on rich soil, not on the path or on rocky ground or among thorns, so that we may yield a huge harvest. To be stolen away or lack roots or be choked of fruit would be terrible indeed.

Rich soil is deep and doesn’t produce immediately. The tiny plant must be tended patiently, and so must the faith planted in us, as well as that planted in others. Doing so is our responsibility.

God’s word always achieves its end, like rain that causes seed to grow.

-June 29, 2014
Let go and let God.

This saying originated who knows when, but every person who strives to follow Jesus must eventually learn to practice it. Peter and Paul both had to master it, as you and I must today.

That’s because it is encompassed by the first beatitude Jesus gave his disciples in his sermon on the mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” in which he teaches us that trusting in ourselves doesn’t work but only trusting in God.

When growing up, neither Peter nor Paul would have imagined himself traveling to distant lands, enduring prison, and dying for someone called Jesus. They accepted these strange turns of events as they learned to let go and let God.

Though it is guesswork, Simon Peter probably was born around 1 A.D. and Paul around 10 A.D. The one whom Jesus nicknamed “Rock” was a fisherman and lived in Bethsaida, a village on the Sea of Galilee. A married man and likely a father, he comes across as impetuous in the Scriptures.

While Peter might have had some education, which would have been helpful to him as a businessman, Saul, who later became Paul, received an excellent education, as was appropriate to a boy born into a family of Pharisees. He hailed from Tarsus, an important city in present-day Turkey. Imbued with great zeal for his Jewish faith, he embarked on a career of defending Judaism against any threat, including Christianity.

How does a person end up going from one path to another that is considerably different? Simon left his nets to follow Jesus, perhaps to the deep concern of his wife.

Saul, a persecutor of Christians, who witnessed the martyrdom of Stephen in Jerusalem and was heading for Damascus to apprehend Christians there, wound up converting after having a vision of Jesus.

Both men were free to refuse the invitation. However, each let go and let God, perhaps after longer period of consideration than depicted in the Scriptures.

Putting this saying into practice is frightening. We want to be in control, to determine where we’re headed. Relinquishing that control and allowing God to set our course is frightfully hard. It led these two apostles to great suffering, as well as to performing miraculous cures. It resulted in them finding the way to true life, something they joyfully shared with others, even in far-off Rome.

There, around the year 64 A.D., with the strength given by the Lord, they sacrificed their lives, one by crucifixion, the other by beheading. They had finished the race, having shown their love for Jesus by feeding his sheep and serving as important foundation stones on which our Savior built his Church.

The challenge you’re struggling with right now might involve tumult in your marriage or making a big decision about your career. Maybe you’re concerned that you’re becoming too materialistic, or you’re troubled over the bad blood between a neighbor and you. Or could it be that you aren’t getting along with your parents or that your effort to lead a holy life is making you the object of ridicule?

So often we don’t know the answers, as Peter and Paul also found in their own lives. Letting go and letting God worked for them, and it will work for us.
-June 22, 2014
How long do you think you would live without eating, or without anything to drink?

Our spiritual ancestors wandered in the desert for forty years, on a treacherous journey to the Promised Land. At the point that they were complaining that they were going to starve to death, God provided manna to nourish them. When they complained that they were thirsty and in danger of dying of dehydration, God provided water from a rock. But, as Jesus points out, they still died. The manna was simply bread, just physical nourishment. The water was just plain water. And most of the people who left Egypt never made it to the Promised Land. That forty year length of time appears frequently in the Bible. The Israelites wandered 40 years in the desert. A number of the Judges ruled for 40 years. The reign of a number of the kings lasted 40 years. Several times we are told that “the land rested” for 40 years. That 40 year time period was considered the length of one generation. So, the Israelites spent one generation, or one lifetime, wandering in the desert. Similarly, we spend one lifetime wandering in a spiritual desert, complete with its temptations, its dangerous serpents, and its oases. And, like our ancestors who wandered in a real desert and were provided with manna for food, we are provided with nourishment: the “true bread from heaven.”

What Jesus gave to the disciples at the Last Supper, we still have today in the Eucharist. What we celebrate in the Mass is a re-presentation of that meal. This is much more than a reenactment. We do not pretend that we are celebrating the Last Supper. When we celebrate the Eucharistic Liturgy, we become participants in the Last Supper, and in the Sacrifice on Calvary. We are drawn into the Heavenly Banquet, together with all the angels and saints. In our Eucharistic celebration, time and eternity intersect.

Jesus tells us that the bread and wine are His body and blood. He did not say they represent His body and blood. He did not say that we should pretend that they are His body and blood. Anyone who says that the bread does not become the flesh of Christ, and that the wine does not become the Blood of Christ calls Jesus a liar. And someone who says that it is not possible for that to be true is forgetting, or denying that God, who is capable of creating the universe, can make it happen.

We bring simple bread and wine to the altar as our sacrifice. God receives them and in their place gives us the flesh and blood of His Son. Their essential substance is changed into the flesh and blood of Christ. Our God comes to us with the appearance of bread and wine. Jesus becomes our spiritual food and drink to sustain us on our life long journey to our true home. As St. Paul tells us, by partaking in this meal, by eating this bread and drinking this cup, we participate in the flesh and blood of Christ.

Unlike ordinary food that becomes part of our bodies when we eat, this is food that incorporates us into His Body; and, since He has only one body, we become united closely to one another. As St. Paul says, “because the loaf of bread is one, we…are one body.” There is only one “loaf of bread” because our bread has become the flesh of Jesus, the “Bread of Life.” You and I are united as closely, in a spiritual sense, as are all the parts of your body. That being the case, should we not care for one another in the same way that we take care of our own bodies? What about our brothers and sisters who are not here with us, the missing parts of our body? Should we not be tending to them as well, inviting them to join us again so that the body can be whole?

We share in the Real Presence of the Body and the Blood of Christ when we receive the bread and drink from the cup. The bread and wine that we offer are transubstantiated into the body and blood of Christ; and, then when we receive them, are we not transformed also? Do we not become wine to be poured out for our brothers and sisters; and bread to nourish them? That time of prayer and reflection after Communion is not a time to just “be alone with Jesus.” It is a time to reflect on what we have received and how He is transforming us. It is a time to ask Jesus to transubstantiate us. We journey together, caring for one another, strengthening one another, nourishing one another, even those who have not shared in the Eucharistic meal with us today. How long do you think they will live without spiritual food or drink?

Is not the cup a participation in the Blood of Christ,

and the bread a participation in His Body?

Deacon Bob
-June 09, 2014
I think of the Holy Spirit as a talent scout. In sports, such a person has a good eye and instinct for sniffing out a young person with great skills. I suppose everyone’s heard of Lou Gehrig, but what about Paul Krichell? He was the rookie scout for the Yankees who at a college game in 1923 watched Gehrig play for Columbia University and signed him as fast as he could. Krichell also spotted and signed Whitey Ford, who went on to become a star Yankees pitcher, and another 200 to play professional baseball.

Talent scouts also have a proud role in horse racing. If you saw the 2003 movie Seabiscuit, you might remember the character Tom Smith. He is the old cowboy turned horse trainer who recognizes greatness in the seemingly broken-down horse for whom the film was named and guides him to become a champ in the 1930s.

The Holy Spirit is a kind of talent scout in that God has endowed every one of us with gifts, and the Spirit leads us to put them at God’s service for rebuilding the world, which is the Church’s job.

Jesus began that rebuilding with his birth, which occurred through the Holy Spirit, and undertook it publicly after his baptism in the Jordan, with the Spirit leading him. In today’s reading from John’s gospel, Jesus hands over that work of rebuilding when he breathes the Spirit upon his disciples. We see a different version of the same event in our passage from the Acts of the Apostles, when, with the Holy Spirit manifested as a strong wind and tongues of fire, Jesus’ followers are commissioned to continue his work. The gospel says that Jesus sends them forth, directing them to forgive sins, which in the New Testament is language that is all tied up with the work of baptizing. According to Acts, the Spirit prompts them to speak in many different languages about God’s mighty acts, so that all can be brought to faith in Jesus as Lord and Redeemer and as one people of God refashion the world into a new Eden.

In this God reverses the action taken against the human race in the tower of Babel story found in the Book of Genesis. At that time all humans spoke the same language and were working together to accomplish evil, as symbolized by this tower they were building. God stymied their evil efforts by confusing their speech, so these different languages they suddenly now used prevented them from understanding each other.

The power of evil is what we call sin. But it can’t compete with the powerful divine wind or the breath of God we know as the Holy Spirit. The word “spirit” comes from a Latin word that means wind or breath. Like a tremendous wind that causes your car or house to rock, or the wind that filled the house sheltering the disciples in Acts, the Spirit poured upon us in baptism gives us power to fight against evil, as Jesus did.

Jesus was born into our world to rebuild it, and his death and resurrection mark the conquest of Satan, the lord of evil. The Church, which is the Body of Christ, was born on Pentecost and given the mission to complete that rebuilding. Though Satan constantly strives to stop our work, we carry on by bearing witness to Jesus through our loving ways and through our words of testimony about God’s greatness.

Just as God blessed Lou Gehrig with a tremendous ability to hit a baseball and endowed Seabiscuit with incredible speed, God has bestowed many gifts upon us. Without Paul Krichell, Gehrig’s talents might have remained hidden. Without Tom Smith, Seabiscuit might have wound up in a glue factory. These scouts played a crucial role, and so does the Holy Spirit in our lives.

You aren’t sure what your gift is? Ask the Spirit to help you see and put it to use in the Church’s task to make the world into a new Eden. Maybe it’s a sympathetic ear, a talent for explaining the faith, or skill in fund-raising. It might be a talent for organizing or baking or healing rifts between people or writing. Perhaps God has blessed you with a large reservoir of patience, or a passion to right wrongs and defend the weak, or a keen eye and sure hand for fixing things or creating beautiful objects. Some are dreamers, others are fun-loving extroverts, and yet others are single-minded and task-oriented.

The world needs all our gifts if God’s dream for it is to be fulfilled. It’s the job of the Church, born on Pentecost, to act as God’s instruments in achieving his dream. We can’t fail, because the divine wind that is the Holy Spirit leads us.
-June 01, 2014
I have a holy card of the Ascension, and it depicts this event as imagined by a 15th-century Russian icon painter. It’s a wondrous scene, as the apostles, unable to contain their joy, look up to the sky, along with Mary and the two angels, waving their arms at Jesus and shouting as he is borne aloft. Jesus’ followers look ecstatic in this painting, in a way like the teenage girls captured in video as the Beatles came to America in February 1964 for the first time.

A detail that particularly appeals to me shows one of the apostles clinging to a tree branch he apparently has just leaped up to grab, as though he wants to follow Jesus. That action sure resonates with me! I want to be with Jesus, too, embraced in God’s loving arms, totally enveloped in joy and peace and ecstasy.

Along with Jesus, only Mary seems in possession of herself. She appears to be pondering what her Son’s departure means. As depicted in this icon, she is a great model for us. On the other hand, the apostles’ posture reminds me of myself when, gazing up at the sky at a passenger airliner ascending from Cleveland Hopkins Airport, I wonder where its passengers are going and wishing I were among them.

One day we will be escorted to our place in heaven, when our years of loving service as witnesses to Jesus end. We are assured of this later in this Mass, at the start of the Eucharistic prayer, when we are told that Jesus ascended so that we might be confident of following where he’s gone before.

Our hope for this helps us to follow the example Mary gives us in that icon. She is paying attention to the present rather than getting lost in dreams of future glory, as it seems the apostle trying to climb into the sky after Jesus has done. According to our passage from the Acts of the Apostles, our task right now is to bear witness to Jesus to the ends of the earth. That parallels Jesus’ words to the eleven disciples in our verses from Matthew’s gospel, as he commands them to make disciples of all nations by baptizing them and teaching them.

Doing this by our own devices won’t work. That’s why, in Acts, Jesus promises his friends baptism in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit makes it possible for them to bear witness, as they do throughout the Acts of the Apostles. So the Spirit does for you and me, having been poured upon us in baptism.

Sisters and brothers, a great future awaits us, because our destiny is the joy, peace, and ecstasy that heavenly glory will bring. Right now, however, we have much work to do. We are exactly where God wants us, so let’s not wish ourselves elsewhere, as if a jet airplane could whisk us away from our challenges. “Don’t stand there looking at the sky,” the two angels said to the disciples and also say to us. God has chosen us as laborers in the vineyard, so let us be at our work, because we don’t know when the Lord will return.

Sometimes we will fall short, maybe even in a big way. We mustn’t allow that to impede us, for we can trust in God’s mercy. Forbidding ourselves to become lost in past failures or preoccupied with what the future holds, we focus on today and the many opportunities God gives us to bear witness to others, by which means we help to make them our fellow disciples.
-May 25, 2014
Always be ready to give an explanation of the reason for the hope that you have.

Scratched into a wall at Auschwitz :
I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining.
I believe in love even when I don’t feel it.
I believe in God even when He is silent.
Even in the hopelessness of a Nazi concentration camp, someone was able to express profound hope, trust that even in the midst of horrendous suffering, God is present.

After his fellow deacon, Stephen, is martyred (Acts 7:57–60), Philip goes down to Samaria to preach the gospel. Believers in Jesus are being stoned to death, and in response Philip does not go into hiding, but goes to people hostile to Jews, to explain the hope that the Risen Christ gives him.

Peter writes to Christians who are experiencing difficult times because of their beliefs. They are being called on to defend their faith. Peter writes, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” (1 Peter 3:15) Those words are for us.

Hope involves an element of desire, and element of belief, and an element of trust. A few months ago it felt like winter was never going to end. But we see Spring and Summer and sunshine as desirable; we believe that they exist; and we trusted that the sun would return, and the snow would end, and green leaves would appear again on trees.

We are people with hope. Our ultimate hope is not in things of this world. If we begin putting our hope in the next election, or the health-care system, or financial institutions, we will be disappointed. Our real hope is for eternal life, happiness, and fulfillment with God. We have this hope because of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have further support for that hope in the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the witness of the saints.

People listened to Philip in part because of the works he was performing. Not many of us are casting out demons and healing the sick, but we can let our hopefulness show. We can be pleasant, respectful, and generous in such a way that we show our hopefulness in the midst of a world filled with despair. We gather here every week to be encourage one another, to be encouraged by hearing the word of God in Scripture, and by sharing in the Eucharistic meal in which we are nourished by the body and blood of Christ.

Then we go out to announce the Gospel of the Lord, living lives filled with hope, and prepared to give a reason for our hope to anyone who asks. “Life right now can be difficult, but my hope is not in this world and its fleeting moments of comfort. My hope is in Jesus Christ and the eternal happiness that He offers us.”

We are baptized into the prophetic mission of Christ, to live lives that proclaim the Gospel. Then in Confirmation we receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit, promised to us by Christ in today’s Gospel passage. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Gospel by our lives and our words. We are sent by that same Spirit to be messengers of hope for the world, in our homes, in our workplace, and in the marketplace; messengers of hope for our families, our friends, and strangers. Are we ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks of the reason for our hope?

The prophet Habakkuk, writing during the time of the Babylonian conquest of Judah, the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, and the desecration of the Temple writes these words, expressing his hopeful trust in God even when his world was collapsing:
Though the fig tree does not blossom,
and no fruit appears on the vine,
Though the yield of the olive fails
and the terraces produce no nourishment,
Though the flocks disappear from the fold
and there is no herd in the stalls,
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD
and exult in my saving God.
GOD, my Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet swift as those of deer
and enables me to tread upon the heights. (Habakkuk 3:17–19)

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rom 15:13)

Deacon Bob


-May 18, 2014
“Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these.”

How astounding are these words of Jesus, which are addressed to the Apostles and also to us! He healed a crippled man, enabling him to walk. He gave sight to the blind and cast out demons. He multiplied the loaves and fish and raised Lazarus from the dead. I’ve never done any works like these; have you? Do you know anyone who has? I don’t.

What conclusion are we to draw? That we don’t believe in Jesus as strongly as we ought? I don’t think that’s the message of this passage in John’s gospel.

Jesus’ purpose for coming into the world wasn’t to perform miracles, so it isn’t ours. His goal was to lead people to his Father. Belief in Jesus, who is one with the Father, is the way to life with the Father. Therefore, the work we are to do is to bring all people to God through belief in Jesus, who is the way and the truth and the life.

We the Church have been doing this work for 2,000 years. And our work qualifies as greater than Jesus’ because belief in him has spread far beyond the boundaries of Palestine. More than 2 billion people follow him today, as compared to perhaps 100-200 at the end of his life.

However, that leaves 4 billion for us to introduce him to, as well as a lot of those 2 billion believers that we don’t see much of, who need some encouragement from us to rededicate themselves to Jesus.

It’s challenging work to help others to believe in Jesus. First, we ourselves have to grow ever stronger in our own belief. Prayer and the sacraments make this possible. With our own faith thus nourished and empowered, we are able to build that spiritual house Peter speaks about in our second reading. Our loving deeds and words are the mortar and bricks that, placed one atop another, will one day see the house completed, that day being the one when Jesus comes again in glory.

This is hard work, and it’s never done. Think about all the effort LeBron James has invested in mastering basketball. As this game is his life, the faith is ours. It’s more important than anything else in this world, and so we have to keep working at it.

Regularly turning to prayer and the sacraments, we come to know Jesus better. What flows from this are the spiritual sacrifices Peter reminds us we are to offer: the forgiveness we extend to one who’s hurt us, the generosity we practice with the material blessings we enjoy, the patience we show towards a person who’s annoying us, the self-control we exercise to restrain a violent action or word, putting our talents at God’s disposal, respecting our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit rather than wrongly indulging our appetite for food or alcohol or sex, and seeing each person through God’s eyes.

You and I haven’t performed any miracles, but by our Christian love, we do the greatest work of all: We help others to believe in Jesus, who is the way to true life.

-May 11, 2014
“I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved.” So Jesus says in today’s reading from John’s gospel.

God wants us to be saved. There’s no question about that, as both the Old Testament and the New Testament make clear. But some people harbor serious doubts about this.

The TV game show Let’s Make a Deal perhaps sheds some light on that view. Back in the 1960s, when I was a boy, I would watch this program, hosted by Monty Hall. A contestant was to choose between three doors. Behind one was a new car, with the others concealing lesser prizes; say, a fancy outdoor grille and a badminton set. Of course, all the people watching would be holding their breaths, hoping the contestant would pick the right door.

Do you think this is how God has structured salvation? That it’s a matter of whimsy on God’s part, as though God is indifferent to whether we receive the gift of eternal life? That, for his own entertainment, God requires us to play a game that can’t help but result in a significant proportion of us losing?

This image doesn’t square with the loving, compassionate, merciful God revealed to us by Jesus Christ, especially in Christ’s willing acceptance of death on the cross.

Rather it’s we sinful human beings who want to require our all-powerful Creator to bargain with us, to play “let’s make a deal”. We aren’t in a position to insist, “God, rescue me from this awful situation and I’ll never fail you again.”

The painful events we suffer aren’t God’s doing, as though God is toying with us. That wasn’t how the Father dealt with Jesus, nor is it how he deals with us. God’s only wish is that we be saved, but God won’t force salvation on us. He gives us freedom to choose.

There is only one gate that leads to abundant life, and that gate is Jesus. He waves his hands and jumps up and down to get our attention, crying out, “Here I am! This is the way!” That’s what he did by coming into the world and inviting fishermen, tax collectors, fallen women, Pharisees, the rich and the poor, and all other sorts of people to follow him. He does this still through his Body, the Church.

In this world of ours that has more than enough thieves and robbers and other false shepherds, Jesus remains the only gate, and it’s our privilege to point him out to everyone we meet, by means of our loving kindness.

With his resurrection he returned to his Father’s side, leaving us to be the ones who jump up and down while shouting, “This is the way!” Reminded by the Scriptures we have heard and energized by eucharist, may we be true to this baptismal commitment of ours in the week ahead.

-May 4, 2014
Out of town this week!

-April 27, 2014
No other book of the Bible uses the word “believe” as much as John’s gospel.

Helping others to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior is our job as Christians, so that they will find true life. The Apostles did so by sharing Jesus’ story, and that’s how we do it, too. Our reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us that the believers devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles, to the communal life, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. The same is true of you and me.

The New Testament is the teaching of the Apostles, and we hear it every Sunday and read it on our own. The breaking of bread and the prayers refer to the Mass. The communal life is our shared life as Church, as we assist the poor, comfort the sick, rejoice over newly-married couples, baptize babies (not to mention older people, like Louie Foulkes Jr. last weekend), express sorrow for our sinfulness, work for justice, and mourn over our beloved dead.

Sunday after Sunday as Church we come together in worship so that we can be strengthened to persevere in believing and in nurturing belief in the people we encounter who don’t know the Lord.

Belief in him is life, our gospel says. That was the greatest gift my parents ever gave me, as was perhaps the case for you. Or it could have been the example of a friend, or the influence of your spouse, or a good deed done to you by a believer that brought you to Christ.

How important it is that we share our faith. If you came upon a priceless buried treasure, wouldn’t you share your good fortune with the people you love? According to Peter in our second reading, belief is more precious than the purest gold.

We are blessed to believe. Let us pass it on, through our acts of kindness, by telling our story of faith when the opportunity presents itself, and through invitations we extend to people we know to join us at Mass. By doing so, we help the people around us to find life.

-April 20, 2014 - Easter Sunday
“Congratulations on your victory!” I remember hearing those words from the coach after my doubles partner and I won a tough high school tennis match against opponents who had a far better record than ours.

Today I congratulate you on your victory!

Victory seems to always go to the one with extraordinary gifts. Think of LeBron James. Or Bill Gates, whose amazing mind built a software empire. What about those tennis wonders, Serena and Venus Williams? Not to mention blockbuster actors like George Clooney and Scarlet Johannsen. These people are winners.

But today’s victory that belongs to you and me has nothing to do with our abilities or anything we’ve done. We are winners on a far grander scale than any technology wizard or professional athlete or movie star. And that’s thanks to Jesus Christ, whose cross and resurrection conquered sin and death.

But victory is the result of something you accomplish, right? Wrong. We’re used to thinking of earning it ourselves, because that’s our mindset as humans. But we can do nothing to emerge victorious; it’s all God’s doing.

The story of salvation, from Adam and Eve until today, reveals the inability of human beings to overcome their sinful nature. The first man and woman ate the forbidden fruit. Human wickedness resulted in the great flood. The sinful Israelites constantly doubted and angered God as they journeyed through the desert, somehow forgetting that God had freed them from slavery in Egypt. Their descendants, after settling in the Promised Land, repeated this pattern, turning to false gods and doing other evils in God’s sight.

Then, in the fullness of time, God “gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” Easter teaches us that Jesus’ victory also is ours, thanks to God’s boundless love, with no credit coming to us.

You perhaps are familiar with a comic strip called “The Born Loser”. Brutus Thornapple can never get ahead. He’s out of shape, isn’t all that bright, finds it hard to get by on his salary, and has a miserly boss who enjoys belittling him. He views himself as a born loser.

Life has a way of causing everyone to feel that way. A divorce does that to you. So does being out of a job for months or even years. The same goes for a young adult who is saddled with a mountain of college debt and, seeing her friends getting married, wonders whether that special someone will ever appear. A person caring for a loved one with dementia can get so worn out she starts to feel like the deck is stacked against her. And then there’s that little voice inside our head that tells us we’ll never measure up, we’ll never be good enough.

However, God’s love makes us good enough; it makes us victors. Jesus overcame sin and death, and through baptism his victory is our victory. Soon we will renew our baptismal promises and be sprinkled with water as a reminder of our baptism.

Last night at the Easter Vigil Mass our parish participated with Louie Foulkes Jr. as he was washed clean of sin and death in the baptismal waters and was confirmed. Then our community welcomed him and James Janezic to the banquet of eucharist, as all processed forward to be nourished with the Redeemer’s Body and Blood, that their spiritual strength might be refreshed.

Shortly we also will be strengthened by this sacrament. With the power of Christ, let us go forth from here to tell the world about his victory, as Mary Magdalene and the other Mary did for the Apostles. They needed to hear this stupendous news, and people today need it just as much. Let us also, by our loving ways, allow the Lord to touch them. Thus, will they come to know him and have the chance to share in his victory—and ours.

-April 18, 2014 - Good Friday
Today we celebrate Jesus’ death on the cross. In the words of two New Testament books, he hung on a tree, quoting the Old Testament’s Book of Deuteronomy, “God’s curse rests on him who hangs on a tree.”

The tree on which our Lord died might have grown near some Palestinian farmer’s home, providing shade for his family on a hot afternoon. Trees are a glorious gift from God, and how this one ended up being fashioned into an implement of cruel death no one can say. But isn’t it tragic that human beings are capable of this?

In first of the creation stories in the Book of Genesis, we are told that on the sixth day God looked upon all he created and pronounced it very good. However, we humans have the freedom to go astray, turning the intelligence and skills God has granted us to bad purposes.

The metal we take from the earth can end up as a tractor for producing food or a surgical scalpel for the benefit of someone’s health or a bomb to kill people. Our brain power can devise schemes to improve life on our planet or to harm many while enriching a few.

Jesus used all his gifts to serve his Father, and this led him to hang on a tree. That happened because humans twisted what was good within them into bad. By his cross and resurrection Jesus reversed this, showing us how to live the truth.

With the strength that comes to us through eucharist, let us heed the truth that requires us to obediently do good with every iota of our energy and talent and thus contribute to the salvation of the world.

-April 13, 2014 - Palm Sunday

-April 6, 2014
We aren’t very good at surrendering.

This was true for Noah and Abraham, for David and Jeremiah, for Martha and Mary. It’s true for you and me and will remain true for people not yet born. We human beings find surrendering extremely difficult. I guess that in our deep-seated brokenness, our inner wiring has become so messed up that we believe we know best, that we can rely on ourselves.

I was reading Bill W.’s story in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, and his history of drinking testifies to this brokenness I’m talking about. Not until he surrendered to God was he able to find sobriety. This is the case not just for people with addictions. All of us believe our hands must be on the controls.

When we learn to relinquish the controls to God is when we begin to discover the central truth: that Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

Martha hasn’t learned this even after witnessing Jesus raising Lazarus, nor will she or any of Jesus’ other followers until after his resurrection, when at last they start recognizing that he was the Son of God.

You and I have been taught from birth that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. But believing he gives eternal life now and at the end of time will raise the dead doesn’t mean we are good at surrendering. I know I’m not.

Bill W. finally recognized and admitted his brokenness and need for God’s help, and with that surrender came life. Not that everything becomes easy for us when we surrender to God and admit that without him we are lost. On a daily basis we find that we still want to be in control. Therefore, we have to renew our surrender, which we can only do with God’s help, through the sacraments and prayer and Scripture and the support of members of our faith family.

Jesus showed his mastery over death when he raised Lazarus. This greatest of his miracles in John’s gospel foreshadows his own death and resurrection, by which he conquered sin and death.

We find life this very day because we surrender to God. The many terrible things that otherwise could kill our hope and bury our spirit in the grave are thus defanged, whether it’s a son’s suicide, a spouse’s crippling illness, long-term unemployment, a divorce, or some form of addiction. The power of God overcomes all such obstacles, if we turn the controls over to God.

-March 30, 2014
I’m going to ask you to do something that’s very easy. If you’ve been baptized, raise your hand.

I congratulate you! I say this because you are “the enlightened”. From the Church earliest days, that’s how the baptized have been described: as “the enlightened”. Baptism has given us light and new life, which is the reason for the little hymn St. Paul includes in our verses from his Letter to the Ephesians: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

We were in the dark before the waters of baptism bathed us in Christ’s light. In a sense we were dead, because Jesus had yet to claim us as his own. All that changed when the Light of the World dawned upon you and me on the day we were baptized.

Louie, our elect, who is looking forward to baptism at the Easter Vigil, awaits the dawning of Jesus’ light in his life. He wants the great gift that we enjoy, and his desire for it reminds us how fortunate we are to already be God’s adopted children. Let us support him with our prayers and example, as we do in a moment, when we celebrate the second scrutiny, which has the purpose of strengthening him to stand fast against sin and grow in love for God and neighbor.

Just as the man born blind received sight when he washed in the Pool of Siloam, baptism cured our blindness, which was caused by sin. The Evil One seeks always to visit blindness upon us again, as with Jesus when he tempted him in the desert at the end of his 40 days and nights of fasting. We must refuse Satan, day in and day out, relying on the grace that comes to us through prayer and the sacraments.

Because we are “the enlightened”, we are to make the works of God visible. We sleep no longer, brothers and sisters, but have been raised from the dead, thanks to baptism, in which we died and were raised with Christ. May our deeds and words of kindness, generosity, compassion, and mercy show that we are awake and draw others to the Light of the World.

-March 23, 2014
Your plane has crashed in the Sahara Desert. Ten aboard have survived, some with serious injuries. You expect to be rescued quickly, but the days pass and you remain stranded. Your food supplies are running low, but thirst is what really torments you. It takes many days before hunger kills you, but death from thirst come much more quickly.

Without water we will die. Thirst drives the Samaritan woman to the well, and it leads Jesus there, too. In the course of the story, the woman leaves her water jar behind because a far deeper craving than physical thirst has been satisfied, and she can’t wait to offer the same opportunity to other townspeople.

This deeper thirst is to know God, a knowledge that comes to us through the gifts we receive from Jesus: his teaching and the Holy Spirit. Strangely, though the source of true life is to know God, so often we humans are blind to this, as was the case with the Samaritan woman.

That she has had five husbands and now lives with a sixth man indicates that her life has been very immoral. She is almost completely oblivious to her thirst for God, a thirst that is killing her. When Jesus encounters her he immediately grasps this and is able, thanks to the woman’s curiosity about him, to open her spirit to appreciate her need. Now Jesus replaces the six men she thought would satisfy her thirst.

Almost everyone here has been baptized, washed clean in the sacrament’s water. However, this didn’t inoculate us against sin, for it remains a deadly threat to us. Satan constantly seeks to lure us away from God, trying to convince us that God is not the object of our thirst; rather, the Evil One whispers, you’ll find fulfillment in money or power or popularity or food or alcohol or sex or success.

Maybe we’ve been seduced by these lies. It could be that some of us have gone so far astray that we’re convinced God can’t forgive us, or perhaps we know somebody who fits that bill. But did Jesus recoil from that sinful Samaritan woman?

Every human person thirsts for God. Because we all are sinners, we find ourselves looking in the wrong places for satisfaction, even those of us who have encountered the Lord and in baptism have become his disciples.

Brothers and sisters, let us allow nothing to take Jesus’ place. He has given us his teaching and the Holy Spirit, which come to us through the Church. Be renewed in them by taking advantage of our parish’s communal penance service tomorrow / this afternoon at 3 p.m.

This sacrament and eucharist regain for us the cleansing we experienced in baptism, and they, along with the Bible and personal prayer, give us access to God,

the source of true life. Thus refreshed and with our thirst quenched, let us imitate the Samaritan woman, who eagerly sought out her townsfolk to tell them about Jesus.

At this Mass we celebrate the first scrutiny, just as countless other parishes around the world are doing this weekend. Its purpose is to uncover and heal all that is sinful in the hearts of all who are preparing for baptism at the Easter Vigil Mass and to strengthen everything in them that is good. Louie numbers among them. Like the Samaritan woman, he and the other catechumens in our diocese and around the world have a powerful thirst for God, and we, by our prayers and example, are to encourage a deepening of their love.

-March 16, 2014
Like Abraham, we are called to journey toward our true homeland,

where we will see the Transfigured Jesus.

The great majority of us here live in the United States because our parents, grand-parents, or their parents came to this continent looking for a better life. Possibly it is you who made that journey. It was a journey made with the hope of something better than what already was.

In the 1800’s, when the Louisiana Territory was opened up to settlers, people packed up their families and belongings, and headed west. They didn’t know exactly where they were headed, only that if they could stake a claim on a plot of land, and live there for a specified period of time, they would own that piece of land.

Abram, later called Abraham, made such a journey. He heard God’s call, left the comfort of his homeland, and started on a journey without knowing where he was going, to a land that God would show him. He would know where he was going when he got there. It would not be an easy journey. Abram did not have a map or GPS system to guide him, he would have to follow God’s lead. There was no moving company to carry the furniture, not even a U-Haul rent-a-camel. But Abram trusted that God would lead him to this new home, would bless him and his family, and would make him the father of a great nation. We are part of that great nation, the descendants of Abraham, blessed so that we can be a blessing.

Jesus takes Peter, James, and John on a climb to the top of a very high mountain, another journey. This time their destination is a place where the disciples get to see the Transfigured Christ, Jesus as He will look after the Resurrection. Jesus stands talking with Moses and Elijah, two Old Testament saints. The disciples witness both the past and the future in the present. They have been allowed to experience a taste of eternity.

All of those journeys were difficult. Immigrants leaving their home and familiar surroundings for a place where there may not be a job waiting for them, no home ready to move into, possibly no friends or family waiting. Abram travelled with all his belongings to an unknown destination and no map. Peter, James, and John climbed a high mountain without the assistance of a car, bus, trolley car, or ski-lift.

We are reminded during Lent that we, too, are on a journey. Ours is a spiritual journey toward our true home, with the hope of eternal life promised by God in the Resurrection of Christ. Ours also is not an easy journey; but, as St. Paul reminds Timothy, we can rely on the “strength that comes from God.” Our Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and charity open us to receive that strength, that grace needed for the journey. We journey together, supporting one another, encouraging one another, praying together, and praying for one another. Earlier in this Mass, we all asked one another to pray for us; do you remember? We prayed our penitential rite “I confess to Almighty God…” The last sentence of that prayer is “I ask Blessed Mary, ever Virgin, all the angels and saints, and you my brother and sisters to pray for me to Almighty God.” Do we remember to pray for one another on this journey?

[I invite you to spend a little more time this Lent in prayer, especially for one another. Pray for the person next to you and in front of you. Whatever time you usually spend in prayer each day, add one minute to it. If you pray for an hour right now, can you make it 61 minutes? And if you spend zero time each day on a regular basis, start with one minute every day. For those of you who think you do not have time to stop and pray, sure you do. What about when you are in the shower? You are probably alone there, and the water is blocking out the noise. That is a perfect time and place to start spending a few minutes praying.]

We support one another on this journey, but we also receive “strength provided by God.” We are nourished by the very body and blood of Christ. James, a young man in the parish was joined to the Church, the Body of Christ, in Baptism as an infant; but, who has not yet been Confirmed or nourished by the Eucharist now desires to be fully joined to the Church and to join us around the Table of the Lord receiving Holy Communion. We are called to support him as one who will journey with us. We are called to remember James in our prayers, and encourage him as he journeys homeward, and climbs the mountain with us, in the hope of seeing the Transfigured Christ and hearing the voice of God.

We gather here to be encouraged by hearing the word of God spoken in Scripture and nourished by the spiritual food that is the Real Presence of Christ, His blood and His flesh. At the moment of the Consecration, time intersects with eternity. We become participants in Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary. Jesus becomes truly present in the Eucharist. We join the disciples on the Mount of the Transfiguration, where eternity touches our space and time, and we join with the angels and saints of the Book of Revelation worshiping God.

God Bless Your Lenten Journey,
Deacon Bob

-March 09, 2014
It was March 7, in the year 203. The crowds in the amphitheatre in the North African city of Carthage were loud and boisterous, as typically was the case when the play bill included the slaughter of enemies of Rome. How the rabble loved to see blood flow.

The victims this time included five Christians who had refused to renounce their faith. The onlookers knew that this day the spectacle would be particularly unusual in that two of the Christians to be thrown to the wild beasts were young married women and mothers. Perpetua was a 22-year-old of noble birth and a wealthy family, with a baby boy she still was suckling. The other young woman was her slave, Felicity, who had only just given birth to a girl two days before.

In anguish, Perpetua refused her father’s entreaties that she do what was necessary to be spared. The five were led out, with the men being set upon by a boar, a bear, and a leopard, and the two women by a wild steer. After being badly injured by these animals, their killing was completed with the sword.

This past Friday the Church celebrated the feast of these two martyrs, and now, one/two days later, as we come to the First Sunday of Lent, it behooves us to consider what their example teaches us, especially in light of our readings from Genesis and Matthew.

In Genesis, Adam and Eve succumb to the temptation dangled before them by the serpent, who symbolizes evil. In Matthew, Jesus stands firm against Satan’s efforts and refuses to use his power to serve himself. In this he demonstrates his love for his Father when faced with temptations in the desert. This is in marked contrast to the Israelites of old, who repeatedly revealed their little faith while journeying through the desert to the Promised Land after God had freed them from slavery in Egypt.

Lacking trust in God, they demanded God provide them with food. But Jesus refuses to change stones into bread. They tested God by crying out for water, but Jesus refuses to test God when he repudiates the temptation to throw himself from the top of the temple. They worshiped the golden calf, but Jesus refuses to worship Satan.

Not trusting in God, Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation, as did Israel during its desert wanderings. Jesus, on the other hand, resisted temptation and remained firm in his trust, and so did Perpetua, Felicity, and their fellow martyrs. These two young wives and mothers stood strong, even as they desperately yearned to nurture their babies and accompany their husbands far into the future.

Probably most of us have plenty of experience convincing ourselves it’s okay to do something we know to be wrong: taking a drink when instead we should attend an AA meeting, joining in the gossip at work, telling a lie, failing to hold off on sex until marriage, and when married letting our eyes stray. Imagine how easy it would have been for Perpetua and Felicity to convince themselves it was acceptable to turn from God so they could serve their husbands and children.

Entrusting their loved ones to God, they made a huge sacrifice, because nothing mattered more to them than their love for God. They could do so because God gave them strength through the Church, which fed them with eucharist and Scripture.

These also give strength to you and me, as does the sacrament of penance. Lent is a time for us to turn from sin and fortify our faith. Let us seek out eucharist more often each week and make more time for prayer and the Bible. Let us avail ourselves of confession, perhaps this coming Wednesday evening, when this sacrament will be celebrated in parishes around the diocese. Such prayer, augmented with fasting and almsgiving, makes it possible for us to resist Satan and reform our lives, as we look forward to renewing our baptismal promises when we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection at Easter.

Imitating Jesus when he was tempted to opt for attractive earthly things, Perpetua and Felicity stood firm. So may we, like them trusting in our loving God.

-March 02, 2014
Nine months adrift on the ocean. This is what three Mexican fishermen named Salvador, Jesus, and Lucio managed to survive. They were shark fishing in October 2005 when their boat’s engine ran out of fuel. The ocean currents carried them far from their homes, across the Pacific, well beyond Hawaii to the Marshall Islands. Two others with them died, while they survived on rainwater and by catching fish and birds, which they ate raw. Singing, dancing, and reading from a Bible one of them had brought helped them to keep their spirits up. They said they pray a lot, recognizing that only God could save them.

Our reading from Matthew’s gospel today challenges us to appreciate that God won’t fail us and that we must trust God. In the verses we heard from Isaiah, the prophet is reassuring his people, who are returning home from their long exile in Babylon, that God never will forget them.

Though you and I likely will never have to endure months aboard a drifting boat, life throws many difficulties at us. A worry many retired people have is, “Will our retirement money run out?” Parents of growing kids might have sleepless nights about how to afford college for them. Plenty of people hold down jobs that don’t pay them a living wage, leaving them to fret over paying the bills and putting food on the table.

“Mammon” is another word for earthly wealth. Will we trust in it or God? God knows what our needs are and assures us that they will be met. Those Mexican fishermen did their part by catching fish and birds, rigging a way to save rainwater, and keeping their morale strong. Then they trusted in God for the rest.

That’s the recipe we too must follow. We take the necessary steps to provide for ourselves, and then we trust in God. We are to resist the temptation to rely on ourselves and money. Rich persons still knows illness and death. They have no power to keep their children safe from drug abuse and other dangerous behavior. They can’t force terrorists to give up their bombs or Russia to leave Ukraine alone or stop tornadoes from destroying their homes.

Our task is to love as Jesus did. That’s how we seek the kingdom of God. As a community of faith we support each other in this, by coming to one another’s aid and the aid of the heavily burdened around us, by means of prayer, compassionate hearts, and generosity with the material blessings God has bestowed upon us.

In a way our human existence is like those three men on that drifting boat. God puts good things at our disposal, and we make use of them with our hands and minds. We help each other, as they did, and we leave the rest to God, knowing that to worry is useless and confident that God will provide.

-February 23, 2014
“Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its 5-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

I’m a long-time devotee of Star Trek in almost all its forms. Maybe you recognized the line I just recited, which are the word spoken by Captain James T. Kirk to kick off each episode of the original series.

Captain Kirk and his crew find all sorts of previously unknown life forms during the course of their various missions, as they go deep into outer space. Jesus did much the same thing, even though he never entered into worm holes or traveled at warp speed. No human being had ever known God as Jesus, God’s very Son, did. Nor had any person ever gone where Jesus went in completely fulfilling God’s will. But by journeying with him as his disciples, we are led deep into God’s very being, and through God’s grace we can imitate Jesus’ total obedience. In the words of our passage from Leviticus, we thus become holy as God is holy, or as Jesus puts it in Matthew, we grow to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.

Today’s gospel verses pick up where last Sunday’s left off. This part of Matthew is taken from the sermon on the mount, in which Jesus instructs the crowd about how to live in such a way as to please his Father. Jesus is challenging us to observe the law from the way his Father looks at it. Last week he said not only is killing impermissible but also we must address the anger that leads to killing. Not only are we to keep ourselves free of adultery but also of the lust that ends in adultery. In these matters as well as with divorce, which he forbids, he leads us deep into the heart of the Jewish Law and so into the mind of God. He carries the Law to completion.

This is what Jesus is about in our gospel passage today, as well, as he forbids the use of violence, even when it is used against us. Rather, we are to forgive. Not only are we to love our neighbor; we must love our enemies and pray for them. With our Lord we are on a voyage deep into the mind of God, so that we can become holy or perfect, just as God himself. As we seek to put such a life into practice, we reveal to the world the Father’s love and draw others to join us on our voyage of discovery.

It is our mission to help others to discover the depths of their own incredible ability to love. When we practice mercy and compassion; when we take up our cross by imitating Jesus’ example of self giving; when we bless our enemies rather than curse them; then we enable those around us to find that, with the grace of God, they can do the same.

Jesus alone can lead us where no man has gone before, deep into his Father’s very being. We began this journey through baptism and persist in it by means of eucharist and penance. As today we conduct the in-pew pledge process for the annual Catholic Charities appeal, I invite you to follow where Jesus leads. As he gave his very life to save us from sin, let us give generously to provide our needy sisters and brothers with the meals, shelter, foster homes, adult day care, counseling, and job and migration services made possible by your pledges that support Catholic Charities.

-February 16, 2014
Just before Mass began, Fran spotted Mary Pat and tightened a little. Mary Pat was a person she’d just as soon avoid, though this admission left her feeling a bit guilty, since there was no real basis to it. As the readings, the consecration, the Our Father, the sign of peace, and communion all came and went, Fran experienced a sort of itchiness of spirit. Past experience had taught her that this often served as a signal from God.

Her plan after Mass was to go home for breakfast and then head for the local bookstore, a place where she loved to browse. She didn’t want to alter that plan. “No, an hour or so at the bookstore is just what I need,” she thought, trying to block out that itchy feeling. Nonetheless, after the final hymn she found herself walking over to Mary Pat, someone she so easily forgot shared the same heavenly Father with her, and after some chitchat suggested they go out for breakfast together and then to the bookstore.

If Fran had ignore God’s nudging, it would have been like someone who doesn’t kill her brother but nurtures anger or contempt in his regard, or a man who doesn’t “really” cheat on his wife, even though he often imagines himself with a particular woman who works at his office.

Jesus is challenging us to observe the law from the way his Father looks at it. Because anger is the root of hatred and violence, we must go beyond putting the rock down and address what is at the bottom of our desire to pick up the rock. That itchiness Fran felt told her that to love Mary Pat required her to reach out beyond her own inclination. Simply refraining from doing something hurtful wasn’t enough.

Sirach in our first reading tells us we can choose to obey the commandments or we can choose to do evil. However, to live a righteous or holy life isn’t just a matter of the will. We can honor the very spirit of the law, not just its word, only by putting on Jesus Christ. Love is the spirit of the law, of the commandments, the love Jesus demonstrated by means of his cross and resurrection. Transformation is essential, a transformation that takes place in us individually and as a community through baptism and that we build upon through eucharist, most especially, but also through penance and prayer, including praying with the Bible.

Next weekend St. Therese Church and parishes throughout our diocese will conduct the in-pew pledge process for the annual Catholic Charities appeal. Last year almost 400,000 people in our area benefited from the meals, shelter, foster homes, adult day care, counseling, and job and migration services made possible thanks to your pledges that support Catholic Charities.

Many of us here might be thinking what a struggle it is to get by and there’s nothing left to give. True holiness demands that we see others through Jesus’ eyes and put no limits on the love we show them. That happens only because we open our hearts to God, who transforms us little by little. If Jesus had said, “I’ve done all I can; I can’t take up that cross,” where would we be? His Father’s love empowered him to push beyond human limitations, and so it does for us. Fran said yes to God’s nudge, and I hope each of us will do the same by giving generously to the Catholic Charities appeal.

-February 09, 2014
We are the Light of Christ shining in the world’s darkness.

Have you ever watched one of those television shows that begins with a recap of events from earlier episodes that lead into today’s episode? The show begins and you hear a voice-over, “Previously on This Show.” Sometimes it is helpful to go back and take a look at earlier Sunday readings to see if they might shed some light on today’s readings. So…

Previously in our Sunday readings…

Five weeks ago, on the first Sunday of January, we heard Isaiah say “Rise up in splendor…Your light has come!…Nations shall walk by your light.” (Is 60:1) And in the gospel story told by Matthew, the magi follow the light of a star to find the new King. (Mt 2)

The following week, Isaiah tells his listeners that God “formed you and set you as…a light for the nations…to open the eyes of the blind to bring out…those who live in darkness.” (Is 42:6-7)

Three weeks ago, we read “I will make you a light to the nations;” (Is 49:6) we sang our Psalm response “The Lord is my light and my salvation;” (Ps 27) and we hear Matthew quote from Isaiah that “on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.” (Mt 4:16)

Last week, on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, Simeon greets the Holy Family as they enter the Temple, he takes the baby Jesus into his arms and proclaims “My eyes have seen your salvation…a light to reveal you to the nations.” (Lk 2:32)

(Are you beginning to see a common thread here?)

And now, today’s episode…

Isaiah is back, and he is saying that “the light shall arise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.” (Is 58:10) We sing our response to the psalm, “The just man is a light in darkness to the upright.” (Ps 112) Our Alleluia verse (if you were listening) quotes Jesus saying “I am the light of the world.”

Everything so far appears to be pointing to Jesus as the Light. We interpret Isaiah’s words as being prophecies about the coming Messiah, Jesus. The gospels are about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus himself says that He is the Light of the World.

Now Jesus inserts a plot twist. He says “You are the light of the world…Your light must shine.” Jesus is the Light. His light shines through us. We carry His light so that it can shine in the darkness around us. In our baptism, we are given a candle. If we were baptized as infants that candle is handed to one of our parents or godparents. Our candle is lit from the Easter candle, and we are told “This light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly.” That candle represents the Light of Christ that each of us carries within ourselves. It is a light meant to illuminate all the dark places within us, and around us. “Keep it burning brightly;” but that light can grow dim. We keep it burning by regular personal prayer, by receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist and participating in the other sacraments, by coming together here to fan the flame for one another.

Jesus tells us today, “You are the light of the world…Your light must shine before others.” The light that is given to me in Baptism is not just for me; I just carry it to shine for you and for all the people I meet every day. My light does not need to be a giant searchlight. It can be a small flashlight, or even a candle. Trust that God will provide whatever light is needed.

“You are the light of the world…Your light must shine before others, that they may see your deeds, and glorify your heavenly Father.” Our light shines in our loving, caring actions; not for our own gain, but for the glory of God. God gets the credit. Do we benefit? Absolutely! Take another look at what Isaiah tells us today. If you “share your bread with the hungry, clothe the naked,” do what you can to “remove oppression, false accusation and malicious speech from your midst”…then when you call “the Lord will answer…then light shall rise for you in the darkness.”

Do you anyone living with darkness in their life? Sure you do. How can you shine light into their life? By a kind word? By shoveling the snow off their walk? By bring them a warm meal? By visiting them in the hospital? By cleaning your room when mom asks you to?

How and for whom will you be light this week? How will you be the light of the world?

May you know the Light this day,
Deacon Bob

-February 02, 2014
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are grey
You never know, dear, how much I love you
Please don't take my sunshine away.

I can imagine a young mother singing this to her infant, as I suppose the Blessed Mother likely sang calmingly to her baby, not yet six weeks old, when she and Joseph brought him to the temple in Jerusalem.

Not only was Jesus sunshine to Mary and Joseph, our reading from Luke’s gospel says that he is the light of all peoples. Today’s Feast of the Presentation of the Lord celebrates him who, though incapable of sinning, clothed himself in our sinful flesh in order to serve as that light.

A woman had to present herself to be purified after giving birth, because under the Law of Moses she was ritually unclean. Then she would be free once again to worship. That Jesus also was a faithful Jew living under the Mosaic Law is shown in his parents offering a sacrifice for him. The law was given to guide a sinful people, yet God’s Son, who is free of sin, submits to it.

Having obeyed the Law, Mary and Joseph return with Jesus to Nazareth. Like any new parents, surely they had dreams for their son’s future. He would come to know and love God. He would follow Joseph into the life of a carpenter. He would marry and provide them with grandchildren. Yet, his true Father had other dreams. Jesus will purify his wayward people, according to our passage from Malachi. We gather from the verses from Hebrews that he came into the world so that, by his dying, death would be destroyed.

On this happy day in the Holy Family’s life, a warning about the waiting challenges intrudes in the gospel as Simeon speaks. “This child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and a sign to be contradicted.” In referring to Jesus as “as light for revelation to the Gentiles,” the holy man also sounds an ominous note. These words recall the four Servant Songs in Isaiah. Despised and abhorred will be this servant, whom the Church identifies as Jesus. The prophet says that, to save his people, the servant will be spurned, his back beaten, his beard plucked, and his face will be struck and spat upon. Oppressed and condemned, he will be led to the slaughter like a lamb, pierced for our offenses, and assigned a grave among the wicked.

Thus, even at this point so early in his gospel, Luke points to the reason Jesus was born into this world. This is a reminder that we who follow him will also know hardships in his service.

But because the Spirit was given to us in baptism, these hardships will not overcome us. In another 76 days we will again participate in a procession with lighted candles. I’m referring to the first part of the Easter Vigil, as we enter the dark church with candles blazing, commemorating Jesus’ death and resurrection, as we hear the chant, “Christ our Light” and respond “Thanks be to God”. By allowing his back to be beaten, his beard to be plucked, and his body to be pierced, and by accepting oppression and condemnation, our Savior wiped clean the record of our ancient transgressions and banished the darkness of sin.

It so happens that this Feast of the Presentation of the Lord coincides with the World Day of Prayer for the Consecrated Life. The consecrated life is embraced by religious sisters, brothers, and priests, and a number of religious sisters are with us this morning, mostly from the Sisters of St. Joseph, Third Order of St. Francis, and from the Holy Spirit Sisters. Through their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, they have dedicated themselves to serving God. Though most of us do not take such vows, holy service is to characterize our lives, too.

Obedience to God’s will is essential for us who are married or single or ordained, as we seek to please God wherever we are and in whatever we are doing. Our manner of life is to reflect a certain voluntary poverty, in that we are not to be wedded to riches and material things. Rather, our faith calls on us to pursue a simple lifestyle and willingly put at others’ disposal what God has bestowed on us in the way of talents, spiritual blessings, and money. The chaste, celibate life of consecrated women and men testifies to the chastity the Christian way expects from all of us. Like them, the priest makes the same choice, as to make himself available to serve God’s people. A married couple’s chastity is directed selflessly towards each other, while single persons refrain from sexual activity until marriage, when they pledge themselves to their spouse and open themselves to the gift of children.

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.” So Jesus was to Mary and Joseph, and so he is to us and all people. Gray skies darkened his life, and it seemed that his sunshine was taken away, but his death culminated in resurrection. This we remember at Mass, and in Eucharist strength is bestowed upon us so that we may reflect his glorious light by means of our obedience, generosity, chastity, and lives of service.

-January 26, 2014
In the terrible battles of the American Civil War, the bloodletting was ferocious. Among the soldiers most likely to be killed were the regimental flag bearers. The flag served as the soldiers’ rallying point, so it was imperative that it be seen. If the flag bearer, who always was up front, were killed or wounded and the flag began to fall, someone else would leap forward, grab it, and continue to carry it forward, as the men followed.

Every one of us is a sort of flag bearer, and the flag we carry is the banner of Christ’s cross. Though no physical flag flaps over our heads, Christ’s flag should be symbolically evident to all by our effort to lovingly serve others as Jesus did, taking up the cross through self-sacrifice.

In our verses today from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus begins his public ministry by picking up the flag John the Baptist had been bearing until he was arrested and later executed by King Herod Antipas. Herod ruled Galilee, and here John the Baptist would die.

We last had seen Jesus at his baptism by John and his temptation in the desert, in the vicinity of Jerusalem. That’s about 75 miles south of Galilee, so Jesus doesn’t “withdraw” to Galilee, as the word is translated in this passage. Rather, he makes the three-day journey north to that dangerous place to continue preaching these words, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” the very words John had cried out 30 verses earlier.

“God is coming to reign over the world, so prepare by turning from sin.” This is what Jesus is saying, as John had. Next we find him inviting future flag bearers to follow him: Peter, Andrew, James, and John, who are the first of numerous disciples he will call. When, like John the Baptist, Jesus falls, these four, their fellow Apostles, Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene, Martha and Mary, and others will step forward to carry the flag that entails such sacrifice. Many will die as martyrs.

Today you and I, like our parents and grandparents and the other generations before us, have the dangerous job of flag bearer. Even if we only knew the story of Jesus as given up to this point in the fourth chapter of Matthew, long before we come to his crucifixion, it would be clear that he is in harm’s way. John has been arrested. Years before, King Herod, the father of Herod Antipas, slaughtered many baby boys in an effort to destroy the newborn king of the Jews. And Jesus has successfully endured temptation by Satan, the deadliest of enemies.

Jesus was the embodiment of his Father’s love. Sin and death had thrown a shroud of darkness and anguish over the world, and he came to dispel it. The opposition that already is evident at this point in the gospel only grows worse, and it’s something that we also experience.

St. Paul knew well the difficulty of carrying the banner of Christ’s cross. Paul warns us in today’s reading from his first Letter to the Corinthians not to empty the cross of its meaning. The Christians of Corinth were at risk of doing so by the divisions that were taking place within their ranks. To love is to treat the other as we wish to be treated. They often didn’t do this well, nor do we.

We flag bearers must not falter in the face of the spears and arrows flung at us by Satan’s hostility. The cross spells victory, but at great cost. We might not have to shed our blood like John the Baptist, Paul, and Jesus, but to forgive our tormentors, speak kind words to those who hate us, refuse to reply to violence with violence, and generously give to people who are hurting also is demanding.

In these and many other ways, let us take up Jesus Christ’s flag, emboldened in this by Eucharist, prayer, the Bible, and the example of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

-January 19, 2014
Have you ever watched the 1960s TV show called The Saint? In it a character named Simon Templar, played by Roger Moore, who later starred in a number of James Bond films, is a blend of detective, spy and thief. Corrupt politicians, warmongers, and crime lords find themselves at the mercy of this modern-day Robin Hood, who stands on the side of their victims. Simon Templar’s initials, S.T., might explain the nickname he received. Every place that he strikes, he leaves his calling card, the stick figure of a man with a halo over his head.

The word “saint” brings to mind the Virgin Mary, Peter, Paul, Francis of Assisi, and Therese of Lisieux, people of such holiness that they now have a place with God in heaven. We aspire to number among them when we breathe our last.

But aren’t we called to be saints here and now? In today’s second reading, which is the first three verses of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, he writes to the Christians in Corinth that they are “called to be holy.” Other translations of the Bible render these words as “called to be saints,” so the words holy and saint are synonyms.

Simon Templar’s methods often aren’t acceptable, and though good-hearted, he frequently is self-serving. So his nickname, the Saint, hardly is suitable for him. All too often you and I don’t behave like saints, either, and the same was true of the Christians in Corinth. Paul writes to them because of his concern about their sinful ways. His New Testament letters typically provide guidance to churches he established and from which he later moved on as he spread the Gospel.

Even though their behavior falls short, Paul still addresses them as saints because their call is to holiness. In baptism each of us put on Christ and were graced so we can follow him, and that grace is renewed and strengthened through the other sacraments. Nourished by eucharist, penance, prayer, and the Bible, we will have no reason to blush at being called saints as we imitate Jesus’ love, compassion, generosity, self-sacrifice, and obedience to the Father’s will.

Though the saintly image on Simon Templar’s calling card often wasn’t matched by his behavior, in all that we do and say, may that calling card truly apply to us. May our lives remind people that through us the Lamb of God, the one who poured out his blood to save all people from sin, continues to light the way that leads to his Father.

-January 12, 2014
In baptism, we die and rise to new life in Christ, as sons and daughters of God the Father.

When you came into the church today, did you bless yourself? Did you dip your finger into the holy water font and make a sign of the cross on yourself? Every time we do that, every time we use holy water, or sign ourselves with the cross, we are recalling our baptism. For anyone not yet baptized, that action is an anticipation of Baptism, a kind of down-payment in the Kingdom of God. For John the Baptist’s disciples, his baptism was one of repentance, a preparation for the coming Kingdom of God.

John was preaching “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand! Be baptized as a sign of your repentance.” There is a crowd listening to John. Jesus steps out of the crowd and asks John to baptize him. “I can’t baptize you! You should be baptizing me!” John says. But Jesus insists. Jesus “humbled himself” by becoming one of us, standing with us sinners, entering the water of baptism with us. By His baptism in the Jordan, Jesus sanctified the waters of Baptism. Our Baptism is a baptism with Jesus, and into His Body. Baptism not only cleanses us of Original Sin, it grafts us onto the Body of Christ. In Baptism, we die and rise with Christ to new life. We are freed from the chains of death and darkness, and enter into the Kingdom of God, life, and light. We become truly children of God. This is how the Jesus’s baptism “fulfills all righteousness”—by allowing us to be made right with God.

So dipping your finger into the holy water and blessing yourself carries a lot of weight. It is a renewal of that freedom from sin and darkness, entry into the Kingdom, designation as a child of God, and attachment to the Body of Christ. That simple prayer says “I have died and risen with Christ, and want to conform my life to Him.” As members of one family, of one Body, we have work to do in building the Kingdom of God in preparation for the return of Christ and the final establishment of His reign.

After his baptism, in the words of Peter, Jesus “went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” We may not all be capable of the works that Jesus performed, but we can certainly “go about doing good” and spreading the Good News by our acts of kindness toward those oppressed by injustice.

The second half of today’s reading from Isaiah (Is.42:6–7) applies to each of us baptized children of God. We are missioned to do our part in bringing about justice, by doing our part in enacting just laws and pointing out injustice where we see it. We are baptized to bring the Light of Christ into the darkness of the world. We are asked to open the eyes of those who are blind to the presence of God around them and the healing love that He wants to share through us. We are sent to free those imprisoned by fear, loneliness, depression, lack of self-worth. This is what I agree to with my Sign of the Cross.

And if you are one who still needs to be freed from the world’s darkness, or from your blindness, your fear, loneliness, depression,… then my Sign of the Cross renews the grace of my baptism and strengthens you in it. That simple prayer re-unites us with the entire Communion of Saints who have marked themselves with the same sign and been washed in the same Baptism, and who pray with and for us now.

When you leave here today, remember to dip your hand into that holy water; and use enough to know that your hand is wet. Then remember that this simple prayer recalls your baptism.

Lord, in baptism I died and rose with Christ to new life; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; and I wish only to hear You say that I am your beloved, in whom you are well pleased.

In baptism, we die and rise to new life in Christ, as sons and daughters of God the Father.

Deacon Bob

-Christmas 2013
Each of them basically considered himself dead, for what hope did any of them have to be saved? It would take a miracle.

Are we talking about the people of Sodom and Gomorrah as they beheld divine fire descend upon them, while Lot and his family fled to safety? Or were these the doomsday thoughts of the 6th-century B.C. Israelites who witnessed the Babylonian army destroy Jerusalem and the temple, slaughter thousands, and force many others into exile?

No, death was the fate that awaited the 33 men aboard the U.S. Navy’s newest submarine, the Squalus, which had just sunk that day, May 23, 1939, while on a test dive off the New England coast. No one had ever been rescued from a sunken sub, and so these sailors expected to die there, 235 ft. below the surface.

But a sort of miracle did happen, thanks to naval officer named Swede Momsen. He had spent many years in the submarine service and had known dozens of men who had died as a result of their boats going down for good. An inventive man, he believed this didn’t have to be a death sentence, and so he developed a diving bell, despite great skepticism on the part of his superiors. Lt. Commander Momsen was given the task of rescuing those doomed men, though few believed he could.

He proved them wrong, however, for over a period of 39 gut-wrenching hours he saved every one of those doomed men, in what remains the greatest undersea rescue of all time.

Those 33 people were saved from what seemed certain death, and they could be excused for calling it a miracle. Today, however, we celebrate a truly miraculous event they has spared us from death and given us hope in the face of every obstacle.

From time immemorial sinfulness had threatened humanity, and there was no remedy. With Moses as his special instrument, God had saved his chosen people, the Israelites, from slavery in Egypt and had entered into a special covenant with them through the Ten Commandments.

However, though they now knew what God expected of them, in their weakness they constantly violated the covenant. God sent prophets to speak for him, but the Israelites didn’t listen. This people, who were to be a light to all the nations, were themselves deaf and blind.

How was the human race ever to live in hope of never-ending life rather than with the prospect of doom? Only with God himself showing them the way. And so God’s own Son was born of Mary, taking on all things human but for sin.

Talk about a miracle! Swede Momsen’s human ingenuity saved 33 people, while God’s love has given every human being the hope for heavenly life, through Jesus.

Nor was this divine birth just for a select group. The reason Luke depicts an angel appearing not to royalty but to shepherds is to tell us that God has a special concern for the lowly and for people on the margins of society. In Jesus’ time shepherds were despised by many and often were considered to be thieves.

In that culture, religious practice was incredibly important, and to be barred from the temple and synagogue, as shepherds were, was very bad. The religious leaders, such as the temple priests and the Pharisees, taught that sinners weren’t welcome. Well, if you were blind or crippled or a leper, it was believed that your condition was punishment for some sin you had committed. Shepherds and people in many other trades were barred because their work violated some aspect of the Mosaic Law.

The way the leaders interpreted the law pushed many away. Yet, these were the ones Jesus ministered to in a special way, according to the gospels, and that’s clear from the moment of his birth, when the shepherds hear from the angel and then go to visit the infant savior.

And so, the message for all of us is that God’s love for us knows no bounds, for his own Son wrapped himself in human flesh and then went so far as to die for us and be raised. Because of this unfathomable love, we have reason to hope, no matter how difficult our circumstances might be. And, with the strength God gives us through prayer, Scripture, Eucharist, and the other sacraments, we are to make God’s love manifest to the world, giving birth to Jesus by our words and deeds.

-December 22, 2013 - Advent 4

-December 15, 2013 - Advent 3
The desert and the parched land … will bloom with abundant flowers,

and rejoice with joyful song.

What do you find in a desert? You find sand, hot sun, maybe a few cactuses or other plants that do not need much water. Deserts are not places one goes without good reason. Jesus asks the people who have been following John the Baptist why they were in the desert.

The desert, which can refer to a number of places, is frequently the place where significant events or journeys take place in Scripture.

Joseph, the son of Jacob, is sold into slavery by his brothers and is carried across the desert to Egypt. Moses leads the Israelites across the desert, traveling for 40 years to the Holy Land. The people of Israel are taken across a desert in captivity, and return crossing the desert again; Isaiah speaks of this desert in which the highway of the Lord is to be built. John the Baptist preaches in the desert; the scene of last week’s Gospel reading and referred to by Jesus today. After his Baptism, before beginning his public ministry, Jesus spends 40 days in the desert. Jesus frequently goes to a deserted place, or into the wilderness to pray before significant events in His ministry. St. Paul spends time in the desert after his encounter with Christ.

In our own lives, we sometimes find ourselves in a spiritual desert; empty, searching, lost, thirsting spiritually.

Sometimes we are thrown into the desert, like Joseph or the Israelites being carried away into captivity. It may be a desert of personal illness, or financial loss. It could be a desert created by the loss of a loved one. We could be thrown into a desert wasteland of depression, or anxiety. Searching for meaning in this desert we may turn to alcohol or drug abuse, sex, gambling or other addictive behaviors; all of which lead us deeper into the desert, not out.

Sometimes we need to go into the desert on our own like the Israelites returning from captivity to the Promised Land, or like the Baptist, Jesus, St. Paul, and the early Desert Fathers and Mothers of the Church, to escape temporarily from the distractions of everyday life. We sometimes need to go into the desert to slow down and seek the patience that James calls us to in today’s second reading, to wait with patience and firm hearts for the coming of the Lord into our own lives.

We come together here as travellers in the desert. We offer our thanks and worship to God. We are encouraged and challenged by the Word of God proclaimed in scripture. We are nourished by the very body and blood of Jesus. We pray in the Lord’s Prayer for the coming of the Kingdom. We are sent forth to announce the Gospel, the Good News of Christ, and to continue the work of preparing our world for the final establishment of the Kingdom of God.

“Why did you go out into the desert?” Jesus asks. “To see a prophet…and more than a prophet.” We are in the desert to seek God, to listen for God, and to travel toward the Kingdom of God, our true home. Last week we heard John the Baptist tell us to bear fruit as evidence of our repentance. God promises through Isaiah that for those who are faithful, “The desert and the parched land will exult…They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song.” Our desert, whether we have been thrown there or have chosen to go there, can bear fruit. If we are faithful, we will find ourselves in the Kingdom, and Jesus promises that “the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than” John the Baptist.

The desert and the parched land … will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song.

May the Lord bless you this Advent season,
Deacon Bob

-December 8, 2013 - Advent 2
In the Bible, mountains often are the location where God is found. Where did Moses receive the 10 Commandments, where in Matthew’s gospel did Jesus speak about the Beatitudes and later experience his Transfiguration, and where in Luke did Jesus go to choose his 12 Apostles? Atop a mountain. That’s because, being closer to the heavens, it symbolizes nearness to God. Jerusalem, which is on the crest of a mountain range, frequently is called God’s holy mountain, as we see today’s verses from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: “There shall be no harm or ruin on my holy mountain, for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord.”

Mountains are created over the course of millions of years, due to tectonic plates colliding and pushing the rock upwards, or lava flows accumulating, or rivers carving them out of high plateaus.

Similarly, you and I, along with all other people who strive to please God, slowly are making of the earth a holy place, a mountain where we encounter God. We build up this mountain day by day and moment by moment by our lives of love.

Isaiah served as a prophet in Jerusalem in the 8th century B.C., during a period of great turmoil. The Assyrian Empire already had gobbled up a huge portion of the Promised Land and was poised to conquer the rest. Isaiah recognized that many of the Israelites were not raising up that mountain; rather, they had broken their covenant with God. He saw evidence of this most especially in the terrible suffering of the many poor people, who endured oppression at the hands of the powerful.

God used Assyria to punish the Chosen People, Isaiah says. However, the prophet also makes clear that God did not abandon them, as we find in today’s passage. He anticipates a day when a righteous ruler will emerge from David’s lineage. Under this figure justice will flower. All shall be peaceful, as captured by the image of the baby playing by the cobra’s den and the lamb welcoming the wolf as a guest.

We Christians recognize Jesus as that longed-for one sent by God. It is he who, born of Mary, came to fill the earth with knowledge of the Lord, so that all harm and ruin would be banished from creation. Every day we give birth to him again, by imitating him, until the day of his Second Coming.

Though the first generation of Christians expected that Second Coming to occur within their lifetime, we still wait. As God was patient with sinful Israel, perhaps God is being patient with us, giving us time to build up that holy mountain. Would you and I be ready if he were to come now?

Knowledge of the Lord is essential if we are to be ready and if that mountain is to rise. This refers to far more than dogmas and doctrines. It means our hearts are changed, or, as John the Baptist preached, that we repent.

Jesus came to eradicate harm and ruin and requires us to carry on his work. This means rescuing the poor from hunger and the afflicted from bigotry and beating swords into plowshares. Then that holy mountain will rise. Hunger threatens millions in our country, yet Congress plans to cut food stamps. Though our immigration laws are terribly unjust, reform measures languish in Washington, D.C. Our government tends to invest in war not peace and to employ drones not diplomacy. As faith-filled citizens, we must not tolerate these injustices but must press for change.

However, our first step in changing our hearts must be closer to home. In our own neighborhoods there is hunger, and Jesus challenges us to relieve it. Bigotry isn’t alien to our streets, so we must battle against it. None of us is a stranger to acting out of anger and resentment, which we can transform only by means of the sacraments and prayer.

Our baptism obligates us to pursue these goals. They will be the fruit of our repentance. They will testify to the raising up of that holy mountain. They will hasten the glorious Second Coming of our Savior.

-December 1, 2013 - Advent 1
Advent. It means coming and is a special time to remember Jesus’ first coming and to anticipate his second coming. The preface says that we watch for the day when our Lord comes again in glory as the moment when we will inherit the promise of resurrection and eternal life.

On a ship at sea, the watch keeps an eye on the weather and on any obstructions their ship might encounter, ever alert so as to keep it safe. Aboard the Titanic on the night of April 15, 1912, the watch was ill prepared. In the crow’s nest the binoculars were missing. The wireless office failed to send several warnings about icebergs to the officer on watch near the ship’s wheel, and the speed of 22 knots the captain had ordered was too fast for the hazardous conditions. The ensuing tragedy sank their ship and killed 1,514 passengers and crew members out of the 2,224 who were aboard. In our lives as Christians, how are we to watch? Not with binoculars but, as the opening prayer told us, by righteous deeds and also by holding fast to what endures, in keeping with the admonition of the prayer after communion.

Our gospel reading comes from Matthew, as it will throughout this new liturgical year. Just as the safety of a ship at sea depends on the watch staying awake, as the people of God it’s essential that all of the baptized remain awake and prepared. So Jesus urges in our gospel verses. When he will come in glory we don’t know. St. Paul, like many Christians in the first few decades following the Church’s birth, thought the Lord’s second coming would be very soon. “The night is far advanced, the day is at hand,” he says in today’s verses from his Letter to the Romans.

How easy it is for us to grow weary of watching. However, we don’t want to go the route of Noah’s contemporaries. Instead of holding fast to what endures, they gave all their attention to passing things. We’re tempted to do the same, but by going that route we risk being left behind when Jesus comes again. If we’re ready, as a result of our righteous deeds, then we have nothing to fear on that day. In other words, we must avoid repeating the mistake of all who ignored Noah and wasted their lives on passing things.

Every one of us is at risk of doing that, because those passing things are all around us. More than anything else, our society defines its members as consumers, for consumption is the lifeblood of our society. But we need to realize that acquiring things, eating and drinking more than we need, and indulging ourselves in other ways is to reject what endures. In the gospels you don’t find Jesus praising those who care about gold and all it can buy. Rather, he expresses admiration for people who give away their wealth to help the poor.

Advent is designed to help us ready ourselves spiritually. It is within our power to resist the materialism that surrounds us and to refuse being dragged into the hectic pace that makes one wish Christmas had already passed. Turn off the TV, or when the commercials air, hit the mute button. Find a radio station that isn’t playing Christmas music. Pace yourself on getting your Christmas cards out, and realize it isn’t a crime to send them out after December 25. After all, Christmas season doesn’t end until the Baptism of the Lord, on January 12.

Set aside extra time for prayer, including time here at church before the Blessed Sacrament. Read and re-read the chapters in Matthew and Luke about Jesus’ birth and think about what the evangelists are telling you. Put a limit on what you will spend on gifts and the amount of time you’ll spend buying them. Then use the money and time you’ve saved to help the needy.

By such righteous deeds and holding fast to what endures, you will heed Jesus’ warning that you watch for his second coming, and you also will be prepared to celebrate his nativity, that day when he was born as one like us to save us from sin and death.

-November 24, 2013
Swords flash and clang, men cry out in terror or pain or excitement, horses trample, arrows fly, and the dead and wounded litter the ground as the Battle of Bosworth Field rages in 1485 during civil war in England.

“A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” So cries evil King Richard III in Shakespeare’s play by the same name, as, unhorsed in a battle he is losing, he desperately seeks for a way to escape.

Richard ascribed to the philosophy, “He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day.” That’s a reasonable attitude for an earthly king who’s on the verge of defeat. To survive and fight again might lead to ultimate victory. But no horse could be had, and Richard died.

Like every human person, kings and other leaders of this world often fall short, sometimes tragically short, as in Richard III’s case. And like David, who is anointed as king of Israel in our reading today from the Second Book of Samuel. Though a great warrior and often a wise king, he committed high crimes, including taking another man’s wife and then engineering that man’s death. Call to mind any modern leader and you’ll find plenty of serious flaws.

In the Gospel of John, when asked by Pontius Pilate whether he is a king, Jesus responds that his kingdom is not of this world. Indeed, Jesus is a king, the king of the universe and the only truly authentic king.

As recognized by the prophets, a true king is one who knows that God has entrusted the people to him so that he can lead them to God. Their welfare is his only care, and he will make any personal sacrifice necessary for their well-being. First and foremost, he himself must be in right relationship to God.

Because right relationship to his Father meant everything to Jesus, he refused to succumb to Satan’s temptations following his baptism. He wouldn’t misuse his power by changing a stone into bread to satisfy his hunger, or to be granted worldly power by Satan by bowing down before him, or forcing his Father to save him by throwing himself from the parapet of the temple.

Satan is back again during the crucifixion, speaking through the priests, the soldiers, and one of the criminals, tempting Jesus to save himself by coming down from the cross. Jesus had the power to do so, but a true king’s purpose is to serve the people. While living to fight another day might have been a reasonable philosophy for King Richard III, the defeat of sin and death was Jesus’ goal, because that was his Father’s will, and so he chose death.

Death brings life. In this we see that God’s wisdom escapes human understanding. Following human wisdom, Richard III would have come down from the cross. In the Garden of Gethsemane he would have ordered the sword to be used not sheathed. At the Last Supper he wouldn’t have washed the Apostles’ feet, because that’s not what earthly kings are about. He wouldn’t have granted forgiveness to the repentant criminal, any more than a typical Ohio governor very often grants a reprieve to an inmate on death row.

The challenge for us is to follow Jesus’ way, not the world’s. So let us humbly serve the lowly, refrain from violence in any form, forgive those who injure us, and accept the cross, even though we prefer to run from it. Though such a course makes no sense to the world, it makes sense to God.

The Year of Faith ends today, and it was an opportunity to turn back to Jesus and enter into a deeper relationship with him. That journey goes on, because such conversion requires our decision to say yes to Jesus time and again each day. May every one of us choose the way of Christ the King and, by bearing witness to him, encourage others to join us.

-November 17, 2013
With last week’s snow, nearly all the leaves have fallen off their trees. Winter is around the corner. The days are getting shorter. We are descending into the darkest time of year. One colleague of mine, however, made an insightful remark a few years ago. The first snow of the season was beginning to fall and he said, “Oh, first snowfall, that means Springtime is on its way.” Before the earth can be renewed, and new life can spring forth, there must be a kind of destruction. Before new leaves can appear, the old ones need to fall from the trees. Before a new building can be erected, the old one needs to be knocked down. Before the Kingdom of God can be fully established, the current kingdom of the world must cease to exist.

Jesus comes to the Jerusalem Temple; and, while everyone else is marveling at its beauty, he predicts its destruction. “When will all this happen?” the disciples want to know. The answer Jesus gives is not very specific. There will be wars, earthquakes, famines, and plagues; and even before those things happen, believers will be persecuted, imprisoned, and some will even be killed because of their faith.

By the time Luke wrote his account of the Gospel, the Temple had already been destroyed, and disciples were being persecuted, thrown out of the synagogues, and some martyred. Jesus’ prediction was already coming true. It is no wonder that believers expected Christ to return soon. It was a common expectation during the first few decades after Jesus died and rose that He would return very soon. That is why Paul needed to write to the Thessalonians about people who had stopped working and were being supported by the community of believers. Some of them had decided that if the end of the world was coming soon, there was no reason to continue working. But Paul points out that we still need to continue providing for ourselves, while at the same time waiting expectantly for Christ to return and working to build the Kingdom that He initiated.

Jesus did not give us an End of the World Calendar of Events. Can you name a time when there have not been wars and insurrections going on? When have there not been earthquakes, famines, and widespread disease? Up to the present day, Christians have been persecuted, sometimes by governments, sometimes individually by their friends and family. The 20th Century gave us more martyrs than any previous century. The point is that we do not know when the end is coming. We are called to live each day as if it may be our last, but also prepared to wait another day, or year, or more; always working to build up the Kingdom in anticipation of the King’s return.

Those words of Jesus about events before the destruction of the Temple can be applied to the end of creation, but also have meaning for each of us. Our lives are sometimes filled with turmoil, internal struggles, family fights, persecution in the workplace, physical or psychological suffering. But Jesus promises that “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” If we are faithful to God, we are assured of eternal life. This building, this planet, this universe, time itself will come to an end, but those who remain faithful are promised eternal life, and a resurrection in Christ with the dawning of new heavens and a new earth.

Malachi, writing before the time of Jesus, assures us that there is a day coming, “blazing like and oven,” that will touch each of us with fire. Fire gives us light when it is dark, and heat when it is cold. Fire can be used to purify metal. Fire can also destroy. Jesus himself said that he had come to set the earth on fire (Lk.12:49); and He has. His fire is at work right now in us and around us. It is the fire that Malachi says will leave “the proud and evildoers… neither root nor branch,” nothing left of them but “stubble;” but for those who “fear the Lord,” those who are faithful in building God’s Kingdom that same fire brings healing.

Before the Kingdom of God can be fully established, the current kingdom of the world must cease to exist.

May the Fire of Christ’s Love Burn in Your Heart,
Deacon Bob

-November 10, 2013
Brothers and sisters, God calls on us to remain focused on our work of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, allowing nothing to distract us.

Do you remember St. George? Hanging on a wall in my office I have a little painting of this saint, who was reputed to have slain a terrible dragon. In his battle gear and mounted on a horse, he is thrusting his lance down the throat of the dragon, whose life blood pours forth. According to his legend, thousands of people in that region where the dragon had spread terror then became baptized, having witnessed the power of Jesus at work in St. George.

The real St. George, who was martyred in Palestine around 300 A.D., quite possibly was a soldier, but the dragon was a myth that somehow became connected to him many centuries later.

I mention George because in my painting he is very focused on his work of slaying the dragon, which represents evil. In our passage today from Second Thessalonians, St. Paul urges his readers to carry on in their Christian vocation by their good deeds and words.

They need this encouragement because they have allowed themselves to become distracted about Jesus Christ’s second coming, which supposedly is at hand. Earlier in the letter, Paul tells them this is a lie sent by Satan to interfere with their Christian labors. Judging by a passage that follows today’s, some of the faithful even have stopped working, so convinced are they that the Day of the Lord is at hand. Paul’s very practical advice is that those who don’t work shouldn’t be given food to eat.

Among first-generation Christians, the belief was widespread that Jesus would return in glory during their lifetime. St. Paul himself was of this mind, his letters reveal, but he didn’t allow this to distract him from spreading the message of the salvation that comes through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Encouraged by God, may we allow nothing to distract us from engaging in the good deeds and words God expects from all who received new life through baptism.

It could be that you are worried about the end of the world, or your problems might involve your health or finances or family troubles. Or maybe the conditions on our planet leave you feeling discouraged. Satan is keen for us to throw up our hands in despair and give up the fight. How critical are our endurance and our trust in God’s power, which already has won the victory through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Whatever pitfall the Evil One has dug in your path, I urge you to trust in God’s care for you and stay focused on doing his work right now. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that even as St. Paul endured prison and faced the prospect of martyrdom, he persevered in preaching about Jesus. He’s a great model for us in permitting no worldly matters to interfere in our true work.

With the grace God provides through eucharist, penance, prayer, and reading the Bible, let us keep our eyes on Christ and carrying on his work, ever intent, like St. George, on slaying the dragon.

-November 3, 2013
You’ve just been diagnosed with advanced, inoperable lung cancer. You and your wife have a child, with another on the way. You don’t have much money and are desperate to secure your family’s future before you die. What are you to do?

This is the plight that confronts Walter White at the start of the TV cable series Breaking Bad. This high school science teacher, who has been a good, upstanding man throughout his life, finds himself at a crossroads. A way to make lots of money is to pair his knowledge of chemistry with a former student’s expertise in the world of illegal drugs. Deliberately choosing the darkness over the light, Walter starts to manufacture methamphetamine. That decision begins his descent into evil.

A person can choose to abandon the good and embrace evil. The story of Zacchaeus is about a man who chooses to turn away from sin and embrace the light. Will the people of his town see this and celebrate it or reject such a transformation as impossible?

When Jesus enters Jericho and sees the rich tax collector Zacchaeus up in a tree, craning to get a better look at him, he invites himself to stay at his house. This leaves the townsfolk stupefied. They ask themselves how can a holy man decide to associate with a notorious sinner like Zacchaeus? He serves the Romans by his tax collecting and makes his profit by charging them more than they owe.

But Jesus recognizes something else in this rich man. In climbing that tree to better see Jesus, Zacchaeus shows an openness to Jesus’ message of God’s loving mercy. The Lord’s self-invitation is his way of asking the tax collector to become his follower. The man immediately accepts and shows this by declaring that he will give away half of his possessions to the poor and recompense people four-fold any money he has come by wrongly.

Will the people of Jericho believe this man they so detest has truly changed? We often react rather skeptically when someone we long have viewed as bad news claims to have changed his ways. For example, I suspect it took a good while before the Apostles and their fellow Christians came to see that Paul, who was notorious for persecuting them, had experienced a conversion.

Luke doesn’t tell us whether or not Zacchaeus’ neighbors came to believe that he really had changed or rejected

such a transformation as impossible. Let us never consider anyone beyond the transforming power of Jesus’ compassion, love, and mercy.

Hasn’t Jesus, by means of the eucharist we soon will receive, sought and saved us, who without him would be lost? Then how do we respond to this passage, which pushes us to ask ourselves whether or not we are an obstacle in the lives of others to God’s efforts to change them through his merciful love?

-October 20, 2013
“I won’t give up! I won’t give up!”

These are the words I’d constantly repeat to myself if I were attempting what Diana Nyad achieved in September. On her fifth try, she became the first person to successfully complete the 110-mile swim between Cuba and Florida without a shark cage. Talk about the need for persistence! Fighting against strong currents, jellyfish, fear of shark attacks, sunburn, and exhaustion, this 64-year-old conquered all obstacles.

It seems that “I won’t give up! I won’t give up!” was the sentiment of the widow of our gospel passage. She was at greater risk than Diana Nyad. In her culture, which offered no social safety net, a widow without an adult son faced grave peril because she had no provider or protector. Yet we see that this woman got the best of the heartless judge because of her persistence.

The Lucan Jesus makes it clear that persistence in prayer is critically important for every Christian. In asking, “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”, Jesus says to us that persistent prayer is what sustains faith.

Haven’t you found that the hard knocks that you suffer tempt you to lose hope and give up? That’s been my own experience. All your efforts to get along with a difficult co-worker get you nowhere. A loved one keeps falling back into the clutches of addiction. Practicing chastity is hard, as the sexual messages and imagery that blanket our culture come at you from every side. Our dysfunctional government makes you wonder about our country’s future. Someone dear to you dies and grief and a sense of abandonment tear at your heart.

How can we resist the impulse to give up? By means of persistent prayer. God will answer because the bottom line is that God loves his people. This message resounds throughout the Bible, as we see in the passage today from the Book of Exodus, in which God preserves the Israelites against their enemies.

The Father never will fail us. Jesus was confident of this, thanks to his own persistence in prayer, even as death approached him on the cross and defeat seemed certain. In the eyes of the onlookers that first Good Friday he was a failure abandoned by God. Even though he trusted that his Father would vindicate him, he didn’t know how, having no clue that resurrection from the dead awaited him. So, when we too look like failures, and everyone around us ridicules us for believing that God will answer, let us persist in our prayers. In this we need much patience, because God’s ways and timing are not ours.

But let us have no doubt that God will provide for us, as God always has. Week in and week out we remember and celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection, as an assurance of the eternal victory over sin and death that God gave us through Jesus. Because of it we never give up.

-October 13, 2013
Ten lepers were cured; only one leper, the one who came back to thank Jesus, was saved.

You and I are lepers. We all have leprosy. It may not be the kind that people can see; it may not even be physical; but we all have leprosy. Our leprosy might be a physical ailment, or a disability. It might be an addiction. It might be psychological, or emotional, or spiritual. Whatever is separating us from God or from the community of faith is our leprosy.

Naaman was supreme commander of the Syrian armed forces. He was a powerful, important man. One day he woke up and discovered that he had contracted leprosy. We don’t know what exactly his leprosy was, but he had it. He learns from one of his servant girls, who was a slave captured in the Syrian conquest of Israel, that the prophets in Israel could cure leprosy. So the -king of Syria sends Naaman to Israel to be cured. He goes to visit the prophet Elisha who will not meet with him, but has a servant tell him to go bath in the Jordan River. “Doesn’t he know who I am? What is so special about the Jordan?” he asks. But he does as Elisha instructed. This important, powerful military leader needed to learn humility before he could be cured. And then in humble gratitude, he offers gifts to Elisha (which Elisha refuses to accept) and acknowledges that there is no God outside of Israel.

Ten lepers cry out to Jesus for mercy and compassion. Being lepers they were excluded from the community. They were kept separate even from their own families. The only people with whom they could interact were other lepers. Jesus sends them to the temple priests, who were responsible for declaring that a leper had been cured, so that the ex-lepers could rejoin their families and the community. Before they reach the temple, they are cured. One of them, a Samaritan, returns to Jesus in gratitude, thanking and praising God. All ten lepers were cured of their leprosy, but this one Jesus pronounces SAVED because of his faith; and his faith was expressed in his gratitude. Both Naaman and the Samaritan leper receive more that just a physical cure. They both enter a new relationship with the true God. Naaman proclaims that he will no longer worship any god other than the God of Israel. The Samaritan leper is the only one of the ten who approaches Jesus face-to-face in a personal encounter. Both relationships are possible because of the men’s humble gratitude.

How often do we approach God in an attitude of humble gratitude? Do these words sound familiar? Let’s rehearse a little prayer dialogue. “The Lord be with you…” “Lift up your hearts…” “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God…” “It is truly right and just,… always and everywhere to give you thanks…” It is right and just always, not just now, not sometimes, but ALWAYS. Always and everywhere; not just here, not just in church, but EVERYWHERE. Those words begin the Eucharistic Prayer, a long prayer of thanksgiving; that is the meaning of the word Eucharist. And it is during this prayer that God transubstantiates bread and wine into the Real Presence of Jesus. It is when we pray our thanks that Christ becomes most present to us.

We said that it is “right and just” to give thanks to God, and when the Eucharistic Prayer ends, we will sing “Amen” to say that we agree. Do we give thanks always and everywhere? Do we start the day by thanking God for whatever little rest the night may have given us, and for another day to experience God’s love and mercy? Do we end the day reflecting on those gifts we received for which we should thank God? Do I thank God for the little gifts I received during the day, like a parking spot, a sandwich for lunch, or someone who listens to my complaints.

We all start life with spiritual leprosy, cut off from God. In baptism we are cured of that leprosy, and restored to relationship with God and with the Body of Christ, the Church. Like Naaman and the lepers we begin a journey to find complete healing.

Ten lepers were cured; only one leper, the one who came back to thank Jesus, was saved.

Deacon Bob

-October 6, 2013
Do you and I have faith the size of a tiny mustard seed?

St. Francis of Assisi must have, because he did far more than uproot a mulberry tree and toss it into the sea. He was instrumental in reforming a corrupt Church. In fact, his witness is helping to reform a sinful Church to this day, as we’ve seen in the actions of his namesake, Pope Francis I.

With only a tiny bit of faith, we can work wonders. Doesn’t each of us here have at least a grain-sized piece of faith? Of course we do, and that means it’s within us to be great saints, like Francis of Assisi.

Do you doubt this? I suspect Francis, whose feast day was on Friday, felt the same way about his capabilities. But he took Jesus at his word, as we must, for Jesus would never deceive us. His statement about uprooting and hurling a mulberry tree, which is large and has an extensive root system, into the sea is an exaggeration that makes a point: We will amaze ourselves at what we can accomplish by means of faith in Jesus and with the strength that comes from God.

It’s hard to believe that weak and sinful people like us can do amazing things. But it is true because Jesus is at work within us, as he worked within Francis, who was as weak and sinful as anyone here. We ourselves can do nothing, and that’s the rub, for we humans are so inclined to trust in ourselves. God’s ways make no sense to us, but ours do, so we rely on them, despite the fact that they always fail us, leading not to true life in God but to things of this world that cannot possibly satisfy us. Had Francis of Assisi relied on himself, he would’ve accomplished nothing. It was because he trusted in God and gave himself completely to God that he made such an impact.

He was a pampered dandy, a playboy, a rich cloth merchant’s son who loved hanging out with the aristocrats of Assisi. He would have inherited the business and actually had good business sense. First, however, he craved to make his mark as a soldier. Off to war he went but became a POW. Eventually he returned home and resumed the playboy life, until he heard about the latest crusade against the infidels. Burning for glory, he joined it, outfitted in an expensive suit of armor his father bought.

A day after departing he was back, to his dad’s shame. He’d had a vision from God, he told his family and friends, who harbored a good bit of skepticism about that. Perhaps “coward” was a word that some used to explain Francis’ behavior.

Whatever their doubts, their 25-year-old neighbor began behaving oddly. A story circulated that he’d come upon a leper and, setting aside his natural disgust, embraced the man and kissed him. Instead of wearing fine clothes, as had been his habit, he now dressed shabbily. He didn’t frequent the company of the blue-bloods any more but associated with the poor. He chose not to live at his parents’ comfortable home and eat their food. No, Francis found shelter in the ruined chapel of San Damiano and begged.

“God has told me to rebuild his church,” he explained, and for that reason he employed his hands, unaccustomed to manual labor, in restoring San Damiano. He even sold some of his father’s expensive cloth to fund his work. That was too much for his dad, who considered Francis to have lost his mind. Hauling him before the bishop, he demanded that his son return the money.

The bishop couldn’t fathom what Francis was about but sensed that God was at work in him. Heeding the bishop, Francis gave back the money. Then he took an additional step and, to signify his complete rejection of everything he once considered important, he stripped himself naked and handed his father all of his clothes.

Eventually Francis came to understand that God was calling on him to rebuild not the little church of San Damiano but the entire Church. The pope and bishops were far more taken up with power politics than with spiritual matters. As a result, the Church was ignoring the spiritual and material needs of the huge mass of poor people, especially those living in the fast-growing cities. With humility, joy, and a dedication to voluntary poverty, Francis devoted himself to preaching to them and serving them. Very quickly others joined him in this, and by the time he died, about 20 years later, the Franciscans numbered in the thousands.

Because Francis had a tiny bit of faith, God achieved wonders through him. While Francis was unique in his own story, what God accomplished because of him was not. God has repeated this countless times in the innumerable faithful possessing faith the size of a mustard seed. God is at work right now in you and me. Consequently, if we surrender to God as Francis did, trusting not in ourselves but in God, what astounding things we will do!

I’ve seen this in the tremendous ministry done by the West Side Catholic Center, which was born 36 years ago when a few folks like us from local parishes saw and responded to the needs of the poor on Cleveland’s near West Side. Their grain of faith has touched tens of thousands since then.

A couple I know raised not only their own four children but two others whom they adopted, on account of their mustard-seed-sized faith. A faith-filled woman I admire, a wife, mother, and grandmother, has allowed God to use her for 20 years now as an instrument to bring communion to the residents of a nursing home and lead them in the rosary. Another person has taken the simple step of writing a weekly letter to a death-row inmate these past 15 years. She’s like Francis in kissing that leper as she accompanies this isolated brother of ours on his painful journey.

Such examples teach us that there isn’t a person here who cannot be a saint like Francis if, like him, we allow God to lead us.

We pursue such a life because, as our reading from Luke says, we are God’s servants, and servants naturally obey their master’s commands. We deserve no praise; no medals are due us. But by allowing God, that greatest lover of all, to capitalize on our tiny bit of faith during the course of our earthly lives, God will lead us to eternal life, the life which we will taste in a small measure in the eucharist we soon will receive.

-September 29, 2013
In the 1997 film Titanic, the rich people on board that doomed ship don’t find themselves rubbing shoulders much with the poor. But we see their typical reaction when the rich snob, Cal, meets Jack Dawson. Jack is a penniless artist who persuades Rose, the daughter of a wealthy family, not to throw herself into the ocean, distraught though she is over her engagement to Cal. At that point Cal finds the two together but shows no regard at all for impoverished artist, barely noticing him. As the film moves along, Rose and Jack fall in love, leading to a violent clash between him and Cal, who represent two very different classes.

A contrast between the poor and the rich is what we also see in today’s passage from Luke’s gospel. Coming on the heels of last Sunday’s gospel verses about the steward who was going to lose his job because of his dishonesty, it illustrates the meaning of Jesus’ advice “I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth.”

He calls wealth dishonest because humans tend to grow attached to money and use it improperly, as we find with the rich man of our parable this morning.

He is fabulously wealthy. He had to be, to dress in clothing dyed purple, a very costly dye, and linen, also quite dear. To hold a sumptuous feast every single day also denotes incredible wealth. However, he lacks one thing—compassion, and because of this he is consigned to hell.

Cal at least notices Jack, but the rich man denies Lazarus even this. He wraps himself in his wealth, and the door that could connect him to his suffering brother

remains closed.

A major theme throughout Luke’s gospel is the danger that wealth poses. Possessing wealth is not something he condemns, rather the failure to use it properly. The rich man of today’s parable lands in hell because he could’ve helped Lazarus but didn’t.

In Jesus’ day, someone as destitute as Lazarus would have been viewed as deserving his lot on account of some great sin he must have committed. However, Jesus never let such a conception prevent him from opening the door in order to reach out compassionately. The attitude is alive and well in our society that usually the poor have themselves to blame and don’t deserve any help. The attempt of many in Congress to cut money for food stamps demonstrates this.

In Psalm 146 we hear, “Blessed is he who . . . secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, . . . sets captives free, . . . raises up those who were bowed down, . . . protects strangers.” On the other hand, in our reading from Amos, this prophet of the 8th century B.C. warns, “Woe to the complacent in Zion. . . . They are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph!” Like the rich man of our gospel passage, the rich in Israel gave no thought to the suffering of the many poor in their land, which sometimes was called the land of Joseph.

Their punishment was exile when Assyria conquered their nation, while ours will be eternal separation from God, like the rich man of our gospel verses, if we refuse to open our doors and reach out to our brothers and sisters who suffer from hunger or the many other forms of injustice.

Are we using our money to help those less fortunate than ourselves? How about our time? What steps are we taking to change what is unjust in our society, such as pushing those we elected to make sure funding is available to feed the hungry?

May the eucharist we have come here to receive transform us into Jesus himself, so that, like him, we will fling open every door and reach out to all the Lazaruses of our day.

-September 15, 2013
Throughout most of A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is enslaved to his money, which has cost him the woman he loved as a young man, made him a tyrant to his employee Bob Cratchit, and alienated him from his family and society. But at the end of the story, he has come to “hate” his money in the sense that hate is used in our passage from Luke’s gospel: He has recognized that it must play second fiddle to other things that are far more important.

Les Miserables is another tale about conversion. Jean Valjean has spent many years as a convict pulling an oar in a prison galley for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving sister and her child. Bitterness fills him, and it is deepened when, on wandering through a town on a cold night after being paroled, every door is shut in his face because he is an ex-con. But then the bishop in the town welcomes him in, feeds him, and gives him a bed. Valjean repays him by stealing his silverware and running off. When brought back by the police, Valjean is stunned when the bishop chides the officers for their action, saying that he had given him the silverware and then hands him the two silver candlesticks he “forgot” to take.

The bishop’s “hatred” for his possessions—in other words, his willingness to give them away because of his Christ-like love for another person—launches Valjean’s conversion. This terribly wounded man learns to “hate” his own life, in that, as the story unfolds, out of love for God he will put it on the line to save a man mistaken for Valjean himself and about to be sent to the galleys. He will sacrifice to make a decent life for Cossette, whose mother died the victim of a heartless world. He will risk his life so that Cossette’s beau, Marius, doesn’t die in an uprising.

To “hate” our lives, our possessions, our families means a willingness to surrender them out of love for God. Serving God must be our priority. So it was for Jesus, who left his mother and extended family to become a wandering preacher. That was a radical step in his day, when normally he would have stayed in Nazareth working as a carpenter, married, and given his mother grandchildren. So much did he prefer serving God to anything else that he accepted crucifixion, which he could have avoided by keeping his mouth shut. It’s not that Jesus detested family and life; they simply took second place to his love for his Father.

That’s what he expects of us as his followers. A 62-year-old grandmother, Cathy Webster, of Sacramento, CA, went to prison for trespassing on a U.S. military installation during a 2006 protest against our government’s use of our military in foreign lands. She loved her children and grandchildren but loved God more, such that she was willing to be separated from them. Given that prison is no picnic, she also demonstrated that she “hated” her own life—that God’s will had first claim on her, even if that meant the discomfort of prison and the “shame” of being a convict.

A 37-year-old farmer named Franz Jagerstatter also loved his wife and three daughters. He certainly didn’t want to be lost to them and thought long and hard about the likelihood that would happen if he acted on his conscience. It was 1943 in Austria, an ally of Nazi Germany, and Jagerstatter had received the call to serve in the military. He had talked to his parish priest and even his bishop about his opposition to all the Nazis stood for, but both urged him to enter the army as required, for the sake of his family. So his wife Franziska also begged of him.

Perhaps it was the verses found in our reading today from Luke’s gospel that decided the issue for him. He was to “hate” his wife and children and even his own life in the sense of giving Jesus priority over them. Rebellious in his youth and hardly devout, this changed with his marriage, and he greatly grew in faith. No matter what the clergy and his family and friends said, he was convinced that Jesus was guiding him to refuse to take up arms in an unjust war. This decision truly was fatal, just like Jesus’ choice to speak out and to cleanse the temple, and Jagerstatter was put to death. He now is known as Bl. Franz Jagerstatter, having been beatified by the Church in 2007.

Will you and I spend our wealth on the less fortunate, as Ebenezer Scrooge learned to do? Will we put our lives on the line for another, like Jean Valjean? Will we even cut ourselves off from family, like that grandma and Franz Jagerstatter? All out of love for God? This is the radical demand Jesus makes on us. To be a Christian exacts a huge price, and before we begin the journey we should decide whether or not we’re willing to pay it, which is the message of the parables about the tower builder and the king going to war.

Following Jesus costs us a lot, but he gives us the strength to make the payment. That’s why we’re here today. Strengthened by eucharist, let us put everything on the line in order to serve God during the week to come.

-September 8, 2013
Throughout most of A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is enslaved to his money, which has cost him the woman he loved as a young man, made him a tyrant to his employee Bob Cratchit, and alienated him from his family and society. But at the end of the story, he has come to “hate” his money in the sense that hate is used in our passage from Luke’s gospel: He has recognized that it must play second fiddle to other things that are far more important.

Les Miserables is another tale about conversion. Jean Valjean has spent many years as a convict pulling an oar in a prison galley for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving sister and her child. Bitterness fills him, and it is deepened when, on wandering through a town on a cold night after being paroled, every door is shut in his face because he is an ex-con. But then the bishop in the town welcomes him in, feeds him, and gives him a bed. Valjean repays him by stealing his silverware and running off. When brought back by the police, Valjean is stunned when the bishop chides the officers for their action, saying that he had given him the silverware and then hands him the two silver candlesticks he “forgot” to take.

The bishop’s “hatred” for his possessions—in other words, his willingness to give them away because of his Christ-like love for another person—launches Valjean’s conversion. This terribly wounded man learns to “hate” his own life, in that, as the story unfolds, out of love for God he will put it on the line to save a man mistaken for Valjean himself and about to be sent to the galleys. He will sacrifice to make a decent life for Cossette, whose mother died the victim of a heartless world. He will risk his life so that Cossette’s beau, Marius, doesn’t die in an uprising.

To “hate” our lives, our possessions, our families means a willingness to surrender them out of love for God. Serving God must be our priority. So it was for Jesus, who left his mother and extended family to become a wandering preacher. That was a radical step in his day, when normally he would have stayed in Nazareth working as a carpenter, married, and given his mother grandchildren. So much did he prefer serving God to anything else that he accepted crucifixion, which he could have avoided by keeping his mouth shut. It’s not that Jesus detested family and life; they simply took second place to his love for his Father.

That’s what he expects of us as his followers. A 62-year-old grandmother, Cathy Webster, of Sacramento, CA, went to prison for trespassing on a U.S. military installation during a 2006 protest against our government’s use of our military in foreign lands. She loved her children and grandchildren but loved God more, such that she was willing to be separated from them. Given that prison is no picnic, she also demonstrated that she “hated” her own life—that God’s will had first claim on her, even if that meant the discomfort of prison and the “shame” of being a convict.

A 37-year-old farmer named Franz Jagerstatter also loved his wife and three daughters. He certainly didn’t want to be lost to them and thought long and hard about the likelihood that would happen if he acted on his conscience. It was 1943 in Austria, an ally of Nazi Germany, and Jagerstatter had received the call to serve in the military. He had talked to his parish priest and even his bishop about his opposition to all the Nazis stood for, but both urged him to enter the army as required, for the sake of his family. So his wife Franziska also begged of him.

Perhaps it was the verses found in our reading today from Luke’s gospel that decided the issue for him. He was to “hate” his wife and children and even his own life in the sense of giving Jesus priority over them. Rebellious in his youth and hardly devout, this changed with his marriage, and he greatly grew in faith. No matter what the clergy and his family and friends said, he was convinced that Jesus was guiding him to refuse to take up arms in an unjust war. This decision truly was fatal, just like Jesus’ choice to speak out and to cleanse the temple, and Jagerstatter was put to death. He now is known as Bl. Franz Jagerstatter, having been beatified by the Church in 2007.

Will you and I spend our wealth on the less fortunate, as Ebenezer Scrooge learned to do? Will we put our lives on the line for another, like Jean Valjean? Will we even cut ourselves off from family, like that grandma and Franz Jagerstatter? All out of love for God? This is the radical demand Jesus makes on us. To be a Christian exacts a huge price, and before we begin the journey we should decide whether or not we’re willing to pay it, which is the message of the parables about the tower builder and the king going to war.

Following Jesus costs us a lot, but he gives us the strength to make the payment. That’s why we’re here today. Strengthened by eucharist, let us put everything on the line in order to serve God during the week to come.

-September 1, 2013
A man familiar with power and prestige, possessing a keen intellect, impeccable credentials, and an impressive record of accomplishments, he relinquished all of it, choosing to humble himself.

This description applies to someone dear to our hearts, to a man a few of us perhaps have heard of, as well as someone known to just his immediate circle. Jesus, seemingly a nobody from Nazareth, we know to be the Son of God, Luke having informed us of this when in chapter 1 the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. By the point we find ourselves in today’s gospel passage, he has healed people in body and spirit, amazed the crowds with his teaching, fed thousands with a few loaves and fishes, and bested his opponents at every turn.

These accomplishments are widely known and explain his inclusion at a banquet with a number of very proud men who see him as their enemy. Some matters are known only by his disciples, including the power he showed over a storm at sea and the time when he was transfigured in glory, with God attesting to him. He who humbled himself to take on human flesh also has warned his disciples that he will suffer and die and be raised, a fate awaiting him in Jerusalem, toward which he is traveling.

The second member of this trio bore the name Charles de Foucauld. Born into a wealthy, aristocratic French family in 1858, great self-indulgence marked his early life, and he pursued it extravagantly throughout his years of training in a French military academy. He distinguished himself in France’s war in Algeria and again several years later with his studies of North African languages and geography. Back in France, at the age of 28 he rediscovered God through the influence of his cousin Marie.

A visit to a monastery, a trip to the Holy Land, and a sermon about how Jesus took the last place moved him to become a Trappist monk. Having relinquished wealth and a life of ease, he sought poverty and solitude, but the Trappists weren’t poor and solitary enough for him. Charles returned to the Holy Land, where he was ordained a priest at the age of 43. Still seeking to take the last place, like Jesus, he took up residence in the Sahara desert.

He lived alone among the native people there, all Muslims, and for them he was their solitary witness to Christ. His neighbors developed a deep regard for this man who practiced such self-denial, prayer, and hospitality. He hoped to draw a small community of like-minded men around him but never attracted a single person to his way of life. Killed in an anti-French uprising in 1916, the rule of life he composed that involves living among the poor, joining them in their work, and serving as a Christian presence among them has inspired many priests, religious, and lay people. Charles was beatified in 2005.

A man named Mike is the third person I have in mind. He’s in his 70s now but 50 years ago served as an Air Force pilot, which he followed with a successful business career. If Mike had wanted to, he probably could’ve earned a lot of money, but in his wife’s increasingly failing health he heard God calling him to take another path. He scaled back his business activities to care for her, until her long struggle ended. During that time he also got involved in the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society. As a widower in his 50s, he considered the priesthood but opted to deepen his work among the poor, which he continues doing today in one of America’s poorest big cities, Cleveland.

Three different stories, each of them characterized by humble service. This service had and has a special focus on the lowly, whom our gospel speaks of as the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. In the eyes of many in Jesus’ time, these people had no chance of heavenly life. Jesus’ love for them sends us a different message.

In a culture which places such emphasis on grabbing the highest place, let us prefer the last place, relying on the strength given to us in the eucharist and the support of our faith community, as we seek to imitate the humble service of Jesus Christ.

-August 25, 2013

-August 18, 2013
Christ has set the earth on fire, we are called to keep it burning to renew the face of the earth.

There is a prayer that I do not believe we pray often enough any more. It is quite short, and very powerful. Do you know it?

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful; and kindle in them the fire of your love.

Lord, send out your Spirit, and they shall be created; and you will renew the face of the earth.

Have you had the experience of sitting near a campfire or fireplace? If not, you need to do that sometime. There is something attractive about a live flame. Most people find themselves drawn to the light of a campfire or candle in the dark, and to the warmth of a campfire or fireplace when it is cold. For a “romantic evening” a couple might enjoy a candle-light dinner. Many of us have candles in our house to give us some light in case of a power failure; maybe you have only one or two to carry from room to room, or maybe enough scattered around the house to light the entire neighborhood (how many candles is too many?).

We light candles here in the church during our liturgy. At one time candles or oil lamps were needed to light our church buildings. Today the candles serve more as symbols of the light of Christ, who is the Light of the World. As part of our baptism ceremony we are given a candle, lighted from the Paschal Candle, symbolic of the light of Christ that is given to us; and we are instructed to keep that flame burning. That is not always an easy task.

Jesus warns us that carrying His flame will sometimes cause division, even within families. Standing up for what you believe in can lead to difficulties. Jeremiah found himself sinking in mud at the bottom of a pit because he told the people what God had to say, not what they wanted to hear. St. Paul tells us to remember that “we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses” (the Communion of Saints) who have gone before us, endured what we suffer; and now pray with and for us, and encourage us to continue running the race “with our eyes fixed on Jesus.”

The fire that Jesus casts on the earth is not just a candle flame or campfire, it is an all-consuming fire meant to divide those who accept Him from those who do not. It is the fire that will separate the sheep from the goats. It is the fire that tests the “genuineness of our faith, more precious than gold …tested by fire.” (I Peter 1:7) It is like a forest fire that consumes everything in its path. However, after a fire consumes a forest, new life begins to grow from the floor of the burnt forest. If we allow the fire that Christ sends to cleanse us, then His new life grows within us. We become “a new creation” in Christ.

That campfire or fireplace can sometimes begin to die down. Even if we allow it to almost go out completely, merely stirring the logs can often get it to flame up again. Firefighters will not leave the scene of a fire until they are certain that the embers are cold for fear that a spark might re-ignite the fire. Just so, the flame entrusted to us at baptism can diminish. Events in our life can leave us feeling like Jeremiah, up to our necks in mud at the bottom of a pit. So we come together here every weekend to stir the embers and rekindle the fire.

We gather together surrounded by that “crowd of witnesses” to encourage one another, and to be nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ himself so that we have the strength to continue our journey, carrying His flame for the world to see, setting the world on fire by the example of our Christian love, and speaking the truth that is Christ, the Word of God.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful;
and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Lord, send forth your Spirit and they shall be created;
and You will renew the face of the earth.

May the Fire of Christ continue burn in your heart,
Deacon Bob

-August 4, 2013
Whenever the Summer Olympics roll round, I try to make time to watch gymnastics. I marvel at all those athletes are able to do with their bodies. How the female gymnasts manage to stay on that 4-inch wide balance beam I’ll never comprehend, what with their leaps, back handsprings, and handstands.

Without a great sense of balance they couldn’t do it. That’s true not just of gymnastics but of life in general. This quality is crucial in our relationship with God.

The problem with the rich man in our gospel parable is that he lacks balance. He has given over his life to material things. “You have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!” he says to himself.

His wealth was a gift to him from God, to be used in God’s service. Blind to this, the rich man suffered from a severe case of imbalance, acting as though God had no part in his good fortune.

Everything we enjoy comes to us from God: our health, good looks, friendships, spouse, children, siblings, job, talents, and the natural world. If we use them correctly, they’ll lead us closer to God. The same holds true for things we would prefer to keep at arm’s length, like illness and money problems, which also will lead us closer to God, if we allow.

God asks us to be good stewards of the blessings God bestows on us. That’s where the rich man of the parable failed. He lost his sense of balance by taking credit for his good fortune and indulging himself. If only he had recognized that God was the source of his blessings and deserved the credit.

Perhaps then, with a grateful heart, he would have put his blessings at the disposal of his needy neighbors. What a wonderful outcome would have ensued. Instead of being a fool who wasn’t ready when his time came to exit this life, he would have heard God praising him for his wisdom as God escorted him to his place of honor in paradise

May each of us prove ourselves to be good stewards. Having received the wondrous gift of faith, let us share it with others. Let us praise God for our good health by cutting an elderly neighbor’s lawn. Let us show our gratitude for our winning personality by befriending someone who is lonely. Recognizing that God has blessed us with a good mind and a fine education, let us volunteer in a tutoring program.

These are but a few ways to say thank you to God, most of all for the gift of Jesus Christ. Salvation was far beyond our reach, so he emptied himself by taking on our sinful humanity, accepted death on a cross, and was raised.

We owe constant thanks to God, who continues to drench us with his love, especially through eucharist. If we express our thanks through lives of selfless giving, we need never fear losing our balance as we become rich in what matters to God.

-July 28, 2013
I have countless happy memories of my parents, as I hope you do. There have been some wonderful fathers and mothers presented to us in film, like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, and Sarah in Sarah Plain and Tall. There have been miserable ones, too. Thankfully, my dad wasn’t like Vito Corleone in the 1972 film The Godfather, a killer whose gift to his son Michael is the crime family the young man wanted to escape. Nor like the Star Wars saga’s Darth Vader, seeking to lure his boy Luke Skywalker into evil’s embrace. Nor was my mom like Norman Bates’ mother in Psycho, a woman we never see but who leaves her son a psychotic, emotional cripple.

What’s God like? As we see in his conversation with Abraham in our reading from the Book of Genesis, God enjoys a close, personal relationship with his children, even as he is mighty. Yet the one who created the world and then ravaged it with the great flood, as we read earlier in Genesis, isn’t put off by Abraham’s persistence in pleading for mercy towards the innocent people living in Sodom and Gomorrah.

Abraham’s concern probably was over his great-nephew Lot, who dwelt in Sodom with his wife and two daughters. He bargains with God, appealing to God’s sense of justice. But Abraham’s best effort isn’t enough, since in those notoriously evil towns not even 10 innocent persons can be found. Apparently there are just four, Lot and his family, who are permitted to flee to safety before fire rains down and consumes those places.

Yes, God’s might fills us with awe, but God nonetheless seeks a personal relationship with you and me, as God did with Abraham. Jesus himself indicates this to us by the prayer he teaches his disciples in our passage from Luke’s gospel. That prayer begins not with the formal term of “Father” that reflects God as creator and lord, as the Jews typically addressed God. No, when praying Jesus used the intimate expression “Abba”, which is equivalent to “daddy” or “papa,” and this is the way he instructed his disciples to speak to his Father.

While our friendship with God rightly includes a strong sense of awe, dread has no place there. Abba Father won’t hurt us but loves us tenderly, guides us, provides for us, and forgives and protects us. So Jesus’ prayer teaches us.

That tender love is suggested by the title “Abba”. The wishes that God’s name be hallowed and his kingdom come aren’t within our power to bring about. However, with God’s guidance and grace we can, by our efforts to live, strive to imitate God’s holiness and advance the spread of his kingdom in our world, until the day when Jesus returns in glory.

We can be confident that God provides for the food and other needs we have, since, unlike a Mrs. Bates or Don Corleone, God never would place in our hands a scorpion instead of the egg we’ve asked for or a snake rather than a fish.

God unquestionably will forgive us, but we must demonstrate our willingness to practice forgiveness towards all the other children of God in this world. And we can trust that God will protect us from turning away from God, which is what is meant by “the final test”, if we keep our hearts open to God, as the Eucharist we soon will receive enables us to do.

-July 14, 2013
We are sent to do like the Good Samaritan, showing the compassion and love of Christ.

Every time we prepare to hear the Gospel proclaimed at Mass, we perform a short ritual. Some words are exchanged: “The Lord be with you.”; “And with your spirit.”; etc. Part of that preparation includes an action in which we mark ourselves on the forehead, lips, and chest with small signs of the cross. That action usually takes place while we are saying, “Glory to You, O Lord.” However, the original words that accompany that gesture of marking the head, lips, and heart are, “May the Word of the Lord be on my mind, on my lips, and in my heart.”

Moses tells the people, including us, that the word of God is already “in your heart, and in your mouth.” The law he is referring to, which he gave to the people only a few verses earlier, is the one paraphrased by the scholar in our Gospel passage, “Love the Lord your God.” Love of neighbor come a little later in the Old Testament, but is clearly linked directly to love of God. These are commands that are planted in our hearts, and all other scriptural commands expand on these two (Mt 22:40).

The problem is that this law is easily obscured by our worldly desires; and, it can be distorted by all the laws that attempt to codify it and apply it to daily life. That is what happened to the priest and the Levite in our Good Samaritan story. These two men avoid the victim very likely because contact with him would have made them ritually unclean. We are told that the victim was half dead. The Torah forbids anyone from touching a dead body, and even getting the victim’s blood on their hands would have meant that the priest and Levite would need to perform purification ceremonies before they could again enter the Temple or even join their families. Why risk that?! Because there is a more fundamental law—love of neighbor. They forgot about compassion. The Samaritan understands that law.

The priest and Levite know the Law. They understand it. They keep the Torah on their minds. They have studied it. But they have forgotten the most important law, the one that God placed in their hearts. The scholar speaking with Jesus understands and speaks the words of the Law. The “words” of God are on his mind and on his lips. But, has the Word of God taken root in his heart? He knows the details of the law well enough to be asking for clarification of the details. To whom does this basic law of love apply? There are surely exceptions. I do not have to love everyone, do I? Is that what it takes to obtain eternal life?

Every time we gather to celebrate Mass, we hear the scriptures proclaimed. We listen to those words, but how long do they stick in my mind? Last week we heard that we, like the seventy-two disciples, are sent out to proclaim the kingdom, to announce the gospel. That means having the word of God on our lips. I can know scripture, and even teach it, without it having an effect in my heart. But it is only when the Word takes root in my heart that it can give me life.

We pray, “May the Word of the Lord be on my mind, on my lips, and in my heart.” May it be on my mind so that I can know and understand it. May it be on my lips so that I can proclaim the gospel, the good news of the Kingdom of God that is at hand. May it be in my heart so that I live by that Word, and so that it brings me eternal life.

We speak about the Word of God proclaimed in the words of Scripture; but the Word is also Jesus himself (Jn 1:1–18). So our prayer also means that we ask that Jesus dwell within us. When we receive Communion, that is precisely what comes about. We receive the very body and blood of Christ, so that we become more like Jesus with every reception of Holy Communion. We are nourished and strengthened for our mission to take the Gospel of Christ into our community.

Hearing the words of Scripture and sharing the Body and Blood of Christ, we are sent from here with the Word of God on our minds, on our lips, and in our hearts, to do like the Good Samaritan, showing the compassion and love of Jesus to one another and to all those in need around us, especially those whom the world has beaten and left half dead on the road.

Deacon Bob

-July 7, 2013
Cure the sick, Jesus commands the 72 he sends ahead of himself in today’s reading from Luke’s gospel. Those 72 represent you and me, so when did you last do as Jesus instructs.

I’ve heard of people whom God uses as instruments to bring healing. St. Padre Pio, the Franciscan priest who died in 1968 and was canonized in 2002, was given that power. Considering that I haven’t cured anyone—nor, I imagine, have you—does that mean we are failures as Christians?

No, because curing the sick goes well beyond bodily illness. You could say that curing the sick is our responsibility most especially as the work of reconciliation. When in the gospels Jesus cures the sick, this always signifies most of all the forgiveness of sins. Therefore, our task of curing the sick also focuses on sin. Though we see so much disease in the world, our greatest malady is caused not by germs but by the failure of human beings to recognize that all of us are brothers and sisters and children of the same divine Father.

Looking at the words Jesus instructs the 72 to speak reveals that Jesus wants us to attend to sick souls. “Say, ‘Peace to this household,’” he commands, and later he adds that they are to say, “The kingdom of God is at hand for you.”

“Peace to this household” isn’t meant as a greeting. Jesus is giving the 72—and you and me—the job of bearing his peace with us wherever we go and blessing others with it. Such peace means not the absence of violence but the wholeness that comes from knowing God. It’s the realization that comes from being poor in spirit: from trusting in God not in ourselves or anything of this world. Souls are sick because people give other things priority over God.

Sharing Jesus’ peace with others is all tied up with reconciliation. His words to the 72 that “I am sending you like lambs among wolves” point to this. Every Advent we hear the following verses from Isaiah, about what will happen when the longed-for messiah comes: “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.”

Jesus wants the 72 and all of his followers to know, not so much that their work will be difficult, but that they are the lambs who will transform the wolves and welcome them as guests. This is what the work of peacemaking involves, between ourselves and our enemies and also between communities and nations and ethnic groups and religions. We can’t possibly accomplish this on our own but only because we ourselves have drawn close to Jesus through baptism into his death and resurrection and stick close through eucharist, penance, and daily prayer.

When we declare, “The kingdom of God is at hand for you,” we’re also talking about sin and reconciliation. In Matthew and Mark, the first words Jesus speaks as he begins his public ministry are about the kingdom of God being at hand, and in each Jesus calls on his listeners to repent. Therefore, when we proclaim the wondrous news that God’s kingdom is among us, we are inviting people to turn from some sin and be reconciled. What great news! Far better than, “You won the lottery” or “Your wife is fine and you’re father to a healthy baby” or “You’ve been named the homecoming queen” or “You’re cancer free”.

Though you and I likely will never cure another person of some dread physical disease, the work of reconciliation and repentance is well within our power, because we follow Jesus. Let our homework this week be to identify someone with whom we aren’t at peace and work towards reconciliation with him or her.

-June 23, 2013
In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her friends, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion travel to the Emerald City to meet the great Wizard, in the hope that he’ll grant their wishes: a way home for Dorothy and Toto, a brain for the Scarecrow, a heart for the Tin Man, and courage for the Cowardly Lion. At last they manage to gain access to the fearsome Wizard, who tells them they must kill the Wicked Witch of the West and bring him her broom, and only then will he grant their wishes.

The four companions head off on their perilous mission. As they do, I suspect they wonder why there can’t be an easier way. They likely ask themselves much more urgently as the dangers they encounter almost cost them their lives.

Jesus likewise endured many dangers and much suffering as he fulfilled the mission his Father gave him, and in the end his foes killed him. Though maybe he too asked himself why there wasn’t an easier way, he never turned aside from his purpose.

Why was suffering the only route to salvation? No one can understand God’s mind; like Jesus, we can only trust and obey, taking to heart his assurance that all will be well.

Obeying God is our goal in life, and if we seek it throughout our sojourn in this world, we will be granted eternal life, as surely as Dorothy gets back to Kansas. Jesus allowed nothing to deflect him from doing his Father’s will, not even the prospect of the cross.

Isn’t there an easier way than denying ourselves, taking up our cross daily, and following Jesus? It makes sense that if there are two ways to get from point A to point B, with one a treacherous mountain crossing and the other traveling across the plains, you’ll skip the mountains. However, for us Christians the mountains can’t be bypassed; we can’t avoid the cross if we remain true to our goal of obeying God.

This is what Jesus is warning us about in our passage from Luke’s gospel. If our purpose is to escape as much suffering and pain as possible, then Christianity isn’t for us. To live holy lives brings us into conflict with the values of this world, as Jesus’ life revealed. By proclaiming liberty to captives and serving as a lamp in the darkness, he threatened the powerful who controlled the shackles and prospered in the darkness. As he chose to challenge evil rather than stand idly by, so must we, and that’s what leads to suffering.

It’s hard to accept suffering. In Luke, not until they experience the Risen Lord do Jesus’ disciples begin to understand why he has to suffer and die. Like their fellow Jews, they expect the Messiah to be a mighty figure who will restore Israel to the glory it had known under David’s kingship 1,000 earlier. Though the disciples have tasted the opposition Jesus already has encountered, their focus is on his miracles of healing and casting out demons, restoring a dead young man and a dead girl to life, multiplying the loaves and fish, and calming the storm at sea.

He has mesmerized the crowds, who’ve gathered in droves to hear him and bring him their sick loved ones. How thrilling to be such a man’s disciples! How could the future possibly bring rejection, great suffering, and a disgraceful death for a man who wields such awe-inspiring power? Even now, 2,000 years later, we are little better at accepting the place of suffering in Jesus’ life and, as his followers, in our own.

There is no greater love, Jesus says elsewhere in the gospel, than to lay down your life for a friend—except for laying down your life for your enemies, which is what Jesus did. By our sinful ways we had made ourselves God’s enemies. Why suffering? Because for God himself to suffer and die for us sinful humans was the clearest proof God could give of the boundless nature of God’s love for his wayward children.

We might prefer to take the easy, pain-free way, but for us who follow Jesus, there is no such thing. Obeying the Father’s will is our goal, and central to it is the cross. With the strength given to us through prayer, eucharist, and the other sacraments, let us embrace that cross, by practicing forgiveness, turning the other cheek, walking the extra mile, laboring for peace and justice, and practicing compassion.

-June 16, 2013
Lots of love versus little love. That’s what we see in this reading from Luke’s gospel. And the factors that lead to the characters’ generous or skimpy love are awareness of their sinfulness and openness to God’s forgiveness.

The woman is a known sinner. Simon is a Pharisee, a member of a group that very commendably sought to be true to God by meticulously obeying every one of the 600-some individual laws found in the Mosaic Law, as laid out in the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures. Unfortunately, many of the Pharisees fell prey to self-righteousness as a result of their focus on adhering to the Law. They forgot they were sinners.

To lose sight of your sinfulness is to become a person who loses the capacity to love as God loves. How so? We see the woman’s lavish display of love for Jesus, and the parable makes clear that her love resulted from her experience of being forgiven her sins, which were many. She had no doubt of her guilt, but her loving gestures demonstrate she equally had no doubt of God’s forgiveness. The woman understood that without divine mercy her situation was hopeless. However, God had bathed her in his mercy, leading her to love extravagantly.

What Luke is saying is that we love out of gratitude for God’s love, which proves itself in the forgiveness God extends to us. Simon’s failure to love resulted from self-righteousness. If we believe we have it all together, we, like Simon the Pharisee, are blind to the debt we owe God. If God has no claim on us, then neither do our sisters and brothers, and we choose the forlorn path of self-sufficiency.

The depth and breadth of God’s forgiveness revealed itself in Jesus’ cross and resurrection. We express our gratitude for Jesus’ self-sacrifice by loving other people, whether friend or foe. The recognition that apart from God’s mercy we are lost pushes us to love without limit, because we realize our debt to God can never be repaid. The sinful woman’s lavish demonstration of love proves that she knew this. The Pharisee’s inhospitality towards Jesus indicates how oblivious he was.

We can fall prey to the Evil One’s deception that sin poses no threat to us and that we therefore have no need for the forgiveness and redemption Jesus won for us. As a consequence, instead of appreciating we are obligated to love, we believe that it’s our choice whether to love or not.

“There is nowhere a more wretched and a more miserable sinner than I.” So said Francis of Assisi, illustrating the truth that the better a person is, the more aware that person is of his or her sinfulness.

Let us never lose sight of our sinfulness. Let us equally never lose sight of God’s mercy, which we celebrate in eucharist, for that awareness moves us to a gratitude shown in countless deeds of love for other people.

-June 09, 2013
In what ways must I die so that Christ can raise me to life and live in me?

A few people I know who are benefitting from a twelve-step recovery program, suffering from alcoholism, drug abuse, or other addictions say that it was only when they had reached rock bottom and realized how desperate they were that they recognized their need for help. For all of us, it is only when we know that we cannot save ourselves that we are ready to seek for and accept the salvation that God offers us.

In both the reading today from the First Book of Kings and from Luke’s Gospel, we hear stories about widows whose only sons have died. These are women who desperately need help. In biblical times, women depended on their male relatives for support. Women did not work for pay, at least not respectable women. Women did not own property; their husbands’ property would become the property of the closest male relative. When their sons died, these two women would soon be homeless, begging on the streets for alms so that they might buy enough food to survive. There was no Social Security, pension plan, or Welfare System to help them. There were no homeless shelters or soup kitchens where they could go for rest and food. There was no support system on which they could depend. These two women have nowhere to turn. They suddenly found themselves in a desperate situation.

Elijah had been sent by God to Zarephath during a long drought. He approaches the woman in today’s story from I Kings and asks her for something to eat. She explains to Elijah that she has nothing to give him; she was in fact preparing to use the last of her flour and oil for the last meal that she and her son would eat. Elijah insists that if she shares the meal with him, God will not allow her to run out of flour or oil until the drought ends. She does as he asks, and God does as he has promised; “the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry.” (I Kings 17:16) She was desperate, and God provided for her because she trusted the words of God’s prophet, Elijah. Then we enter today’s story in which here son has died, and Elijah prays that God will restore his life. Once again, the widow is desperate but she trusts Elijah enough to give her son to him, and again God comes to her assistance.

Later, in our Gospel reading, we hear about another widow whose only son has died. The funeral procession is going out of the town gate as Jesus is coming in. The boy’s body would have been wrapped in cloths and carried on something like a stretcher, but not enclosed in a casket. Jewish law said that anyone touching a dead body would be rendered “unclean.” But Jesus is so “moved with pity” for the widow that he not only approaches the funeral, but he actually touches the boy. Jesus interrupts his own journey and does something that will put him outside the Law because of his compassion for this widow. And no-one asked for His help; Jesus helps the widow simply because He knows what she needs and is moved by compassion for her.

When we find ourselves in situations like those two widows, when it feels like there is nothing left, that there is nothing we can do, that things cannot get any worse God is there offering His grace.

Sometimes, there is also a challenge for us: often we, like Elijah, are the instruments through which God works. Like Jesus, we are the ones who need to set aside “the Law” and reach out and touch someone who is untouchable.

And sometimes we need to die before Christ can bring us to life. Saint Paul says a few verses before the passage we read today in the second reading, “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God (Gal.2:20).” In baptism, we die with Christ in order to live with Christ. But maybe I need to die a little every day so that Christ can live in and through me, so that His healing love can flow through me to bring life to all the people around me.

Lord Jesus, I desperately need you to show me in what ways I need to die so that you can raise me to life, and so that I can say with St. Paul it is “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.”

Peace be with you,
Deacon Bob

-June 02, 2013
Recently I watched a wonderful program on Public TV called Becoming Human. The story of human evolution, it offers the latest theories and discoveries on how Homo Sapiens ended up as the only surviving human species of the many that evolved over the course of millions of years.

The struggle to survive has lots to do with food, which is no big surprise. Homo Sapiens’ great adaptability regarding the foods we eat and on many other scores is a crucial reason we have become the dominant species on Earth.

For tens of thousands of years, grains, fruits, vegetables, seafood, milk, nuts, insects, animal meat, and far more have served as the staples of the human diet. Two thousand years ago the Bread of Life and the Cup of Eternal Salvation were added: the only food that washes a person clean and makes her or him holy. It is this greatest of foods for which we praise God today on the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

For most of human history, simple survival has been the goal. Then God revealed himself to Abraham and Sarah, from whom sprung the Jewish people. God taught his Chosen People that being holy is the true goal in life, but they found that they couldn’t achieve this, even though God had given them the Ten Commandments.

To show humanity the way, God sent his Son, born of a woman. Holiness comes from imitating Jesus’ example and obeying his teaching, which we who follow him can do because of the eucharist. In partaking of this food from heaven, we participate in Christ’s cross and resurrection.

Have you ever seen that great 1959 film Ben Hur? In it Judah Ben-Hur, played by Charlton Heston, is a wealthy Jew living in Jerusalem during the time of Christ. Unjustly condemned to the galleys as a slave, his life is consumed by hatred for the man who did this, a high-ranking Roman army officer.

Dying of thirst on his grueling death march to the galleys, as Ben-Hur and the slave gang pass through Nazareth, a carpenter gives him life-saving water. Years later, Ben-Hur is free. He’d won this by saving the commander of a Roman fleet from drowning when their galley was sunk in battle. Taken to Rome, he grows wealthy, in part by becoming a champion charioteer. Finally he is able to return to Jerusalem, where he unsuccessfully searches for his mother and sister, who’d been sent to prison when he was condemned to slavery years before.

Consumed by the desire for revenge, he competes in a chariot race against the man who destroyed his family so long ago and defeats him. Mortally injured in the contest, this man’s dying words are a boast about how he still has beaten Ben-Hur, due to the leprosy that Ben-Hur’s mother and sister have contracted while in prison.

He finds them in a leper colony, but his sister is close to death. Having heard about Jesus of Nazareth, the three go in search of him. They encounter him as he is carrying the cross, and Ben-Hur tries to give him water, as Jesus had done for him years before.

Ben-Hur witnesses the crucifixion, and then his mother and sister are miraculously healed. At last reunited with his family, he recounts hearing Jesus talk of forgiveness as he dies on the cross. His hatred at last is extinguished, and the final words of the film are, “I felt His voice take the sword out of my hand."

You and I encounter Jesus in the eucharist. Because of the Body and Blood of Jesus, we are washed clean of sin, as Ben-Hur’s mother and sister were cleansed of leprosy. Because of this great sacrament, Jesus takes from our hand whatever threatens to destroy us, be it the sword of hatred or greed or envy or lust, and makes us holy.

Sisters and brothers, let us be washed clean and grow in holiness by seeking out the eucharist every Sunday. And let us also lead others to this banquet and the life it alone imparts.

-May 26, 2013
“Light of the world, shine on me, love is the answer. Shine on us all, set us free, love is the answer.” This 1977 song written by Todd Rundgren goes on to say that in all challenging circumstances, whether you’re afraid or lost or alone or far from loved ones or filled with despair or at the end of your rope, the answer is the same: to love others.

This is a song to the Blessed Trinity. In our reading today from his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul says God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the HS that has been given to us. Maybe another way to put this is that the Father is the lover, the Son is the beloved, and the Holy Spirit is the love that flows back and forth between them and overflows into all creation. This is how Richard of St. Victor, a great 12th-century theologian, described the Trinity.

The Church explains the Blessed Trinity as one God but three divine persons. This is an attempt to put into words what is beyond our ability to understand, but the basic idea is the loving relationship that exists within the Trinity. Always, in everything, “Love is the answer.”

God models love for us, as the Father gazes upon the Son in boundless love and as the Son receives that love and returns it. You could say that this exchange of love, which is the dynamo we call the Holy Spirit, exploded into material being with the “Big Bang.” Over the course of time, the Spirit bestowed upon those made in God’s image the divine power to love, making it our destiny to be united with the perfect love that is the Blessed Trinity.

God is bringing this about by means of the redemption the Son achieved through his cross and resurrection, whose power transforms us via the sacraments. As a result, we are empowered to love. The more we love, with the help of the Spirit, the closer we draw to God, until we become one with the Trinity.

God’s will is that all human beings become united in love, which in a short while, in the Second Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation, we will ask God to bring about when we pray, “Bring us together . . . with all the Saints, with our brothers and sisters and those of every race and tongue who have died in your friendship. Bring us to share with them the unending banquet of unity in a new heaven and a new earth, where the fullness of your peace will shine forth.”

“Light of the world, shine on me, love is the answer. Shine on us all, set us free, love is the answer.” That the Trinity consists of the lover, the beloved, and love tells us what our purpose in life is. “Love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus commands his disciples at the Last Supper in John’s gospel. With God’s grace may each of us obey, so that one day we become one with the Trinity.

-May 19, 2013
The Holy Spirit is a challenge for artists. When you look at artistic depictions of the Trinity, the Father always seems to take the form of an old but vigorous man with a long, gray beard. The Son of course looks like a bearded man in his 30s, as we imagine Jesus appeared. But giving form to the Holy Spirit is a lot harder. In representing him artists usually resort to a dove, in keeping with the gospel image of the Spirit descending upon Jesus at his baptism. If the Bible hadn’t provided us with this, artists might have been stuck.

The Holy Spirit presents a challenge for us, too. We understand the Father as creating us and the Son as becoming one like us then redeeming us by his cross and resurrection. It looks like all the bases are covered, so what more do we need? Could it be that the Holy Spirit is superfluous, like your appendix? By no means!

A recent visit to an elderly parishioner’s home provided me with some useful images to understand the Spirit’s role. Frances’ 1-year-old great-granddaughter Alexis was visiting that day. She got a lot of pleasure from playing with the remote-control device for the lamp. She loved turning the light on and off and, with a big smile, would point to it and say “on” each time she caused it to shine by pressing the button. She also had mastered the word “remote,” which I doubt I ever had cause to say when I was her age.

Light is a word used a good deal in the gospels. The role of the Holy Spirit is to guide us in following the light of the world, Jesus Christ. The Spirit opens our minds and hearts to be illuminated by Christ and enables us to resist the evil one, who lurks in the shadows, ever on the watch to lure us back into the darkness of sin and separation from God.

Far from being superfluous, the Spirit, by keeping our eyes on Jesus, enables us to grow in holiness. Jesus taught his disciples the truth, and with his ascension, he and his Father sent their Holy Spirit to help us keep on the right course and remind us of all that Jesus taught. The Spirit is Jesus’ presence among us today.

“Remote” means at a distance, which doesn’t apply at all to God, who is close at hand via the Spirit. As little Alexis used the remote to turn on the light, God uses us as his instruments so that Christ’s light will shine in the world. The Holy Spirit helps us to cooperate doggedly in the midst of tough going, as contrary voices seek to lead us astray, so that the light of God’s love may spread more and more.

[Vigil: We are familiar with the verses from John’s gospel in which, after his resurrection, Jesus appears to his disciples as they hide in a locked room, and he breathes the Holy Spirit on them. We also know well the scene from the Acts of the Apostles which depicts the Spirit descending on the disciples like tongues of flame. These are different representations of the same event, the baptism of Jesus’ disciples. As they were given the Holy Spirit, so we received the Spirit in baptism. This sacrament made us instruments to keep Christ’s light burning. We see in Acts that, having been given the Spirit, the disciples fearlessly proclaimed the gospel. That’s what we must be about, putting to good use the gifts of the Spirit that we’ve received.]

[Sunday: Today’s passages from John’s gospel and the Acts of the Apostles are different representations of the same event, the baptism of Jesus’ disciples. We see them receiving the Holy Spirit, which is bestowed upon us in baptism. The sacrament of baptism made us instruments to keep Christ’s light burning. We see in Acts that, having been given the Spirit, the disciples fearlessly proclaimed the gospel. That’s what we must be about, putting to good use the gifts of the Spirit that we’ve received.]

One-year-old Alexis was thrilled that she could turn that light on. After doing it for a while she let grandma know she was hungry, and she was busily eating some yogurt as I left. Let us turn all of our attention to keeping the light of Christ burning brightly, finding strength for this work by coming to Mass every Sunday to eat Christ’s Body and drink his Blood.

-May 12, 2013
We are called by our baptism, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, to spread the Good News.

This Sunday afternoon, a number of our young people will receive the sacrament of Confirmation, and with it the “fullness of God’s Spirit,” (Rite of Baptism of Children nr.103) the same Spirit promised by Jesus to the apostles before he ascended to heaven. St. Paul prays that we would receive “a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of” God. (Ephesians 1:17) Brothers and sisters, we who have been baptized are all members of the church, the Body of Christ (Ephesians 1:23), and have received the Holy Spirit; and those who have been Confirmed have received the “fullness of the Spirit.” We have received what Jesus promised to the disciples before his ascension.

We have been hearing for the past six weeks about the appearances of Jesus to his disciples after the Resurrection. Jesus, we are told, spent forty days after his Resurrection appearing to the disciples, teaching them, and sharing meals with them. Today, we celebrate what we might call the culmination of the Resurrection event: his Ascension into heaven.

Christ’s death was a sacrifice to atone for our sins. His Resurrection was necessary to conquer death. He told the disciples that if he did not leave the Holy Spirit could not come to them (John 16:7); so, his Ascension was necessary so that we might receive the Spirit.

If Jesus had remained bodily present here on Earth, he would have remained limited to being in one place at any one time, just like us. Only by leaving this world physically does Jesus become the “Cosmic Christ” (Teihard de Chardin) present everywhere at all times. He has returned to heaven, where he is not bound by time and space, but instead rules over time and space. We are presently bound by the laws of this universe, but God created our universe and operates from outside its boundaries. When Jesus returned to heaven, it became possible once again for him to be present in all places at all times, and likewise the Spirit becomes once again active in the disciples of Jesus wherever and whenever they are.

When the disciples ask Jesus if now is the time that He will restore the kingdom (Acts 1:6) his answer is “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:9) The Holy Spirit is given so that the disciples, and that includes us, become witnesses for Christ, to restore the Kingdom. How often do we pray “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done”? But this is not a prayer for the establishment of the Kingdom in some distant place and time; we ask that it happen “on Earth as it is in Heaven” with an immediacy. We are called to work for the establishment of the Kingdom here and now!

Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles that immediately after Jesus disappeared from sight, the disciples were “looking intently at the sky.” Maybe they were trying to figure out what had just happened. In any case, then “two men dressed in white garments” were suddenly standing with them and asked “Why are you standing there looking at the sky?” Jesus had given the disciples a command to go be his witnesses. It was time to prepare for the mission. In nine days the Holy Spirit would descend on them and they would begin spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the known world. That mission is not yet complete. The apostles spread the gospel as far as they could, but they were limited to their own time and place. There were, and still are people and places that have not yet heard the good news.

You and I are called to continue that same mission, to continue spreading the gospel by how we live our lives. We are sent into the world every day to share the love of Christ with our neighbors. We come here to be strengthened for that mission, being nourished with the very body and blood of the Risen Savior who now sits at the right hand of the Father, and will one day return. It is our task, given to us in Baptism and Confirmation to spread the gospel.

I do not know if you will see any angels, but at the end of Mass the deacon will remind you… Go, announce the Good News, the Gospel of the Lord!

Peace be with you,
Deacon Bob

-May 5, 2013
Whenever you replace your vehicle, it takes a while to get used to the new one. I discovered that this is particularly true when buying a hybrid, as I did. Its combination of gasoline engine and electric engine gives my car great gas mileage, but because the technology is different, I had had to learn some new procedures in order to wring those extra miles out of each gallon of gas.

Since I shudder at the prospect of reading page upon page of directions, I made do with simply scanning the owner’s manual. I should’ve read it thoroughly from the start. If I had, I would have made some discoveries that allowed me to operate the car more efficiently from day one instead of wasting gas for several months.

Have you ever made the same mistake, perhaps with a new computer or i-phone, deciding you’ll learn it as you go along instead of studying the directions? Frank Sinatra would sing, “I did it my way,” but that approach often causes big problems, with cars, computers, and many other things. This certainly is true of the Christian life.

The setting of today’s passage from John’s gospel is the Last Supper, and Jesus, who knows he soon will die, is bidding farewell to his disciples. He tells them that the Father will send the Holy Spirit and later explains to them that it is essential for him to leave this world, for only then will the Spirit come.

The Spirit is indispensible because, as Jesus says, he teaches us everything and reminds us of all that Jesus told his followers. You might say the Holy Spirit is the owner’s manual for us Christians, enabling us to understand how to live the Christian way and helping us along the course of our journey.

Our reading from the Acts of the Apostles speaks about the early Church’s struggle over bringing the Gentiles into the Church, which originally was made up only of Jews. You could say that the Christian leaders had to learn a new app, as we would on our i-phones. Their teacher was the Holy Spirit, since, as the passage says, the Spirit showed them how the matter should be decided.

Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles to show that the early Church grew because it heeded the directions given by the Spirit. To practice the Christian life “my way” doesn’t work, any more than trying to make your computer or car function in a way it wasn’t designed for. You, I, and our fellow believers, who are the Body of Christ, “read the directions” by listening to the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit speaks to you and me through the Church’s teachings and through prayer. Just as Jesus often turned to his Father in prayer, so the Church does in the Acts of the Apostles, as when a successor was chosen to take Judas Iscariot’s place, when it was faced with persecution, and when Peter was imprisoned. The Spirit gave Peter the necessary words when he was hauled before the Sanhedrin, strengthened Stephen as he faced martyrdom, came upon converts in response to Peter and John’s prayers, directed that Paul go on his missionary journeys, and much more.

Brothers and sisters, when we stand before God, saying “I did it my way” will sound very lame. Going Jesus’ way means listening to the Holy Spirit, who is our manual. Individually and as a community, may we listen by dedicating ourselves to prayer.
-April 21, 2013
Hearing the voice of Jesus, we can sing, “we are his people, the sheep of His flock.”

Whose voice do you listen to? If we ask that question of our younger children, they might answer that they listen to their parents, their teachers, and other adults. Husbands and wives, I hope you listen to one another. Parents, do you not listen to the voices of your children? We also listen to the radio and television, to the news, and to voices of actors in movies and television shows. We are, in fact, surrounded by voices vying for our attention. It can be difficult to sort them out.

It is interesting, though, that we can indeed pick out voices in a crowd. If a man is in a crowded wedding reception and his wife calls his name from across the room, chances are he will hear her. Parents can identify their own children’s voices in a room filled with other children; and children know their parents’ voices. Those of you with pets, do they recognize your voice? We learn to recognize the voices of our loved ones. We become familiar with the voices of our friends and colleagues with whom we spend time regularly.

Shepherds spend quite a bit of time with their sheep; so, the sheep become familiar with their shepherd’s voice. They learn to listen for the shepherd’s voice, to follow where the shepherd goes. They know that the shepherd will lead them to food and water, will call them into the fold to rest at night, and will protect them. Jesus is the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:14) who lays down his life for the sheep (Jn 10:15). We sang in response to the Psalm today that we are the sheep of his flock (Ps 100:3). And what an enormous flock He has gathered. It is a “great multitude, which no one [can] count, from every race, people, and tongue,” John tells us (Rev. 7:9). We are members of the flock shepherded by the Lamb who sits on the throne of God (Rev. 7:17).

Jesus makes promises to the sheep of his flock. He gives them eternal life, and they will never perish (Jn 10:28). They will never hunger or thirst, and they will not be scorched by the sun or extreme heat (Rev. 7:16, Good News translation). He will lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear (Rev. 7:17).

But to remain with the flock, the sheep must listen to the shepherd’s voice. Jesus says that his sheep hear his voice. But how do we learn to hear his voice? The same way that children learn to recognize the voice of their parents, the way that we come to know the voice of our friends and spouse. We learn those voices by spending time with the ones we love. If we are to hear the voice of the Shepherd, we need to spend time with Him.

Now, how often do a husband and wife spend time together? Would it be enough to say to a couple that they should spend about an hour each week together? How about parents and children—would an hour or so each week together be enough to recognize one another’s voices? I do not think so. Do a husband and wife (hopefully) not spend as much time as they can together? Ask any mother of a very young child how much time she spends with that child. She very likely treasures any time alone that she can get; thankfully God never gets tired of listening to us.

This one hour each week at Mass is not enough to become familiar with the voice of Jesus, either. If I do not spend some time each day with Him, then how can I expect to hear Him; and how can I hear Him if I never stop talking. I need to spend time each day reading some Scripture, because that is where the Word of God is found; and then be quiet; a few minutes each day is a good start. Ask Jesus what He want to say, what He wants of me. Then listen for the Shepherd to speak to me through my family and friends, in the everyday events of life. He speaks to us here in the Scriptures that are proclaimed, in the homily that is preached, in the prayers that are read, in the Sacrament of the altar, and through each other. And we become more closely united to the flock shepherded by the Lamb of God.

Hearing the voice of Jesus, we can sing, “We are his people, the sheep of His flock!”

Easter Blessings,
Deacon Bob

-April 14, 2013
Let me guide you, Jesus is telling us in today’s verses from John’s gospel. Left to your own devices you will not succeed, so listen to my voice and find all that you need.

How the disciples needed to hear Jesus’ voice that day. Though in the previous chapter of the gospel the risen Jesus had appeared to his followers, who were hiding behind locked doors, our passage seems independent of this. A return to fishing suggests that they were backsliding.

Their failure to catch any fish points to their sorry state. They were like a big league pitcher who’s in a terrible slump, seemingly incapable of throwing a strike and giving up one hit or walk after another. As he needs some major adjustments, so did the disciples. Therefore, like a pitching coach, Jesus steps in to provide needed corrections and encouragement to Peter and the others.

Bringing in a huge haul shows that listening to his guidance is the answer, and so is eucharist, as symbolized by the meal of bread and fish he gives them.

I know a number of families that are contending with death. Mom or Dad or a brother or sister has died or is dying, and to everyone it feels like they are living a nightmare from which there is no escape. That must have been the experience of Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, and the others after Jesus’ death.

The solution is beyond us but not Jesus. He unfailingly shows us the way, so let us listen, as the luckless fishermen of today’s gospel did. And, fed like them with eucharist, let us bear witness to Jesus and word and deed. Such obedience to God will enable us to contribute to the huge catch of believers for God and to lead them to rejoice in God, who changes our mourning into dancing.

-April 7, 2013
“Go on—I dare you!”

There you are with your best friend, standing at the walk leading up to the porch of a run-down old house. Old Mr. Gless lives there, and every kid in the neighborhood knows his reputation for being mean. So many baseballs have been unintentionally hit or thrown into his fenced-in backyard, never to be seen again.

Do you, a scared 10-year-old, have the courage to walk up to your neighbor’s porch, ring his doorbell, and ask to have your ball back?

A game on the street suddenly ended by the loss of the ball is a disappointment. You could call that an inch of disappointment compared to the miles-long sense of disappointment and crushing loss felt by the disciples that Sunday night, some 52 hours after Jesus’ death. If someone had dared them to even open the door and just stick their head out, would any have responded?

Completely drained was their spirit, John’ gospel says, as they cowered behind the locked doors, terrified that Jesus’ fate would soon be theirs. But then, like a child whose lost ball unexpectedly is returned, the disciples’ despair was transformed into indescribable joy. For there before them stood Jesus himself, indeed risen as Mary of Magdala had said and completely refashioning them through the gift of his Holy Spirit.

Our verses from the Acts of the Apostles portray the apostles as changed men, no longer hiding but boldly performing signs and wonders among the people, as Jesus had done, and adding great numbers to the ranks of believers.

The very same Spirit given to the disciples in today’s passage from John’s gospel is ours through baptism. In consequence, we dare to proclaim God’s word and perform signs and wonders, by which means we add great numbers to the Church.

Our sign won’t be to multiply loaves of bread but to volunteer at a hunger center.

Ten-year-old Joey can’t raise the dead, but he can raise the spirits of a lonely classmate by befriending him. To heal a sick person is beyond us, but we give a break to a friend by sitting with her Alzheimer’s-stricken husband.

Such signs are required of us, but we also must dare to speak. After all, Jesus preached about his Father’s love, and the apostles preached about Jesus.

“Preach the gospel always, and when necessary use words.” I’ve quoted this saying of Francis of Assisi many times and drawn comfort from it. To me it says to perform deeds of love and let them do your talking. The thing is, as I recently discovered, it’s doubtful that Francis ever said this. These would have been strange words coming from a man renowned for his preaching as well as for his active loving. Like him, we are to do both.

Not long ago, I was with some friends, and our conversation turned to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. All of us agreed that we didn’t know whether we could knock on strangers’ doors as they do but that we admired their conviction.

Such conviction brought Jesus to the cross and took John from his family and community to exile on Patmos. Dare we show such conviction? Our faith compels us to feed the hungry and befriend the lonely and bless those who offend us. It also calls on us to risk speaking about the Risen One, setting aside our fear of rejection. If the disciples hadn’t ever left that locked room, how would anybody have heard about Jesus Christ? He is life itself, so they couldn’t be private about their faith, and we can’t, either. Our salvation and the world’s depend on our proclaiming that he is the Lord.

Like that boy who dared asking for his baseball to be returned, let us dare to talk about Jesus Christ. Shouldn’t we go door-to-door within our parish boundaries to share our faith and invite people to worship with us? Shouldn’t we use an opportune time to give testimony to him at work? Would you and I dare to step out of our comfort zone in this way? What do you say?

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” Jesus tells his disciples after appearing to them in that locked room and imparting the Spirit upon them. The Spirit blazes within us, too. Strengthened by Jesus’ Body and Blood, let us give free rein to the Holy Spirit. May there be no doubt in anyone’s mind that we truly have been sent.

-March 31, 2013 - Easter
“You cast behind your back all my sins.”

This is what God invariably does for us, as the prophet Isaiah writes somewhere in his book. God forgives and we must respond with praise and thanks and give ourselves over to practicing forgiveness. As we see in Jesus’ death and resurrection, God’s nature is to save, which imposes upon us, whom God made in God’s image, the responsibility also to save.

We easily slip into the great error of thinking God has tired of us. “This time I went too far,” we might fearfully say to ourselves. “I promised God I would never go this route again, but now I have, and I’m doomed.”

Once there was a very old man who used to meditate under a large tree on the banks a great river. One morning after his meditation, he saw a scorpion floating helplessly down the river. The current pulled the creature towards the tree, and it became caught in the tree roots that branched out far into the river. In its frantic struggles to free itself, the scorpion got itself hopelessly entangled

Seeing this, the old man immediately stretched himself out on the roots, in an effort to save the drowning animal. However, at the touch of his hand the scorpion instinctively stung him. The man jerked back his hand, which felt like it was on fire, but again he reached out to rescue the desperate creature. Though he suffered another painful sting, he tried again and then again.

A passerby caught sight of the old man. Hearing his gasps, he hurried over, observed the man’s bloody hands and pain-filled expression, and cried, “Stupid old man, what’s wrong with you? Only a fool risks his life to save a scorpion. That ungrateful thing could end up killing you.”

The old man looked up at the stranger and replied, “Friend, why should I give up my nature to save just because it’s the nature of a scorpion to sting?”

The old man represents God, whose deepest desire is to save every one of us, if we allow. The story of God’s relationship with humanity, which we find in the Bible, makes this clear. God’s love gives life, and so creation resulted, as the first two chapters of the Book of Genesis tell us. But the warping sin causes prompts us to sting, like a scorpion. That’s what Adam and Eve do by refusing to heed God, who punishes them but doesn’t abandon them.

The human race did such evil that God destroyed much of it, according to the story of Noah, but once again God showed his saving nature by sparing the righteous Noah and his children. Abram repeatedly sinned, but God was patient, giving him time to deepen his faith, until Abraham came to trust God so much that he was willing to sacrifice Isaac, his only son.

God saved the Israelites from slavery in Egypt by having Moses lead them through the Red Sea. Though they repeatedly showed themselves unworthy during their sojourn through the desert to the promised land, God forgave them. God continued doing so when his people came to possess that land. So often they violated their covenant with God, to the point that God punished them with the Babylonian exile, in order to bring them to their senses. Then, because it God’s nature to save, God brought them back.

The history of the Israelites is our history, which reveals our sinfulness. That sinfulness prompts us to sting one another and God, even though our true nature, as beings formed us in God’s image, is to save.

So warped were we by sin that we inflicted on God the greatest sting of all: We crucified God’s Son. Surely we were doomed and lost forever to sin, for how could God ever forgive us for killing the Prince of Peace, who humbled himself to become one like us to show us the way to God? Satan danced with delight.

However, with Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday morning, the Evil One’s Good Friday glee became ashes. As always, God cast behind his back all our sins. The saving nature God had exhibited toward Adam and Eve, Cain, Noah, Abram, and the Israelites revealed itself once and for all through Jesus’ death and resurrection. By this means, God remedied man and woman’s inclination to sting and restored our nature to save.

Last night parishes around the world witnessed the baptism of their catechumens, as we did our own Don Harper’s here at St. Therese. In this sacrament every one of us died with Christ and was raised with him. It, along with confirmation and eucharist, empower us to stand fast against sin. Having become Christ, we now put into action our nature to save.

Many people continue to sting by their sinfulness, as the state of the world shows. Even we the baptized contribute to this, for too often we forget who we are. Ever true to his nature, God forgives and leads us back to God, so that we can carry on Jesus’ mission of salvation.

Later in this Mass we will renew our baptismal promises and then, in memory of our Savior, eat his Body and drink his Blood, as Don did for the first time last night. Then, sisters and brothers, refreshed and reinvigorated by this spiritual meal, let us go forth from here to live for God in Christ Jesus, saving others by imitating our Lord’s example of forgiving those who wrong us, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and sharing the Good News, and ever taking up our cross.

-March 29, 2013 - Good Friday
“I thirst.”

So Jesus said shortly before he died.

Our task is to quench Jesus’ thirst, but how? By loving other people and bringing them to him. This is what God revealed to Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and she made that her aim in life.

While Jesus certainly suffered physical thirst on the cross, his fundamental thirst was that all souls would come to him so that he could lead them to his Father.

His thirst to show all of us the way of love brought him to the cross, and this had to be, because love and suffering are interwoven. When we love we willingly sacrifice for our beloved. The Letter to the Hebrews tells that Jesus, the very face of God, was perfected through suffering, and that’s because he loved perfectly. Isaiah writes that out of love the servant of the Lord, whom we Christians recognize to be Jesus, bore our guilt and endured our sufferings.

So astray had we gone that we crucified the Lord of life. Yet, God’s thirst for us did not abate, nor did it become a righteous and punishing anger. No, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

Let us thirst as Jesus thirsted by growing in holiness, so that other people are drawn to Jesus through us. In this way the will of God will be accomplished through us as it was through Jesus. In whatever way we are smitten or crushed, stricken or pierced, spurned or afflicted as we imitate Jesus’ complete self-giving, let us embrace it as Jesus embraced death on a cross, so that we may contribute to the salvation of the world.

-March 28, 2013 - Holy Thursday
Of course, I have no recollection of my Mom bathing me when I was a baby, but I know she did, because that sort of thing comes naturally to moms. And it just seemed natural that my Dad would make brunch for the four kids and Mom on Sundays after Mass. I also recall how, when Mom was dying, I naturally would make her a meal, as she had done for me for so many years, and clean her up on her death bed when she would have an accident.

Service is something we extend to our family, right? We hear in our passage from John’s gospel that Jesus served his family of followers when, at the Last Supper, he washed their feet. This action shocked his disciples because in their culture only a Gentile slave could be required to perform this task. It was so humiliating that a slave who was Jewish was exempt.

Jesus performs this humiliating task as an example, to show us that service is our purpose as Christians. As natural as it is for a mother to wash her baby and a son to take care of his dying mother, it’s natural that a people bathed in the waters of baptism will serve anyone who is in need.

I suppose people who knew Babe Ruth as a boy said, “Baseball came naturally to him.” We know this means it was part of his make-up. I think there isn’t a better compliment to pay a Christian than to say, “What a self-giving person she is.” Serving not just family but anyone in need is to be natural to you and me, because loving service reveals God to the world, as we see in the life of Jesus. Everything about him focused on his Father, and the same must go for us.

For Jesus to assume the humiliating job of washing his followers’ feet points to a far more humiliating service that he will perform the next day: dying on a cross. This is the ultimate sign of the Father’s love. Jesus accepted this death because, totally obedient to his Father, he didn’t draw the line at anything to demonstrate God’s love for God’s children, even when they were lost in sin.

At the Mass of the Lord’s Supper we celebrate the gift of eucharist, that greatest of meals which joins us to Christ’s death and resurrection. It empowers us to humbly serve the prison inmate and the refugee, the sick and the homeless, the elderly nursing home resident and the prostitute, the person detests us and those who love us dearly.

Though baseball might have come naturally to Babe Ruth, he still had to work hard at honing his skills. It’s in our nature as Christians to love, but we too must work hard at it. Therefore, my friends, let us keep practicing selfless love, as symbolized by the washing of feet at this Mass. That way we won’t fall back into the habit of serving ourselves but will keep our eyes fixed on our all-loving God.

-March 24, 2013 - Palm Sunday

-March 17, 2013
Let’s “strain forward to what lies ahead,” and “continue [our] pursuit toward the goal.”

Our reading from Isaiah talks about God doing new things. That seems a quite appropriate line right now. We have a new pope. With him come some other new things¬: he is the first pope from the Americas; he is the first Jesuit pope; and, he is the first pope to take the name Francis. There are possibly more new things coming.

Did you notice that our statues and crucifix have been covered? It is something new for us here; at least it has been out of style for quite a few years. It is an old custom that is meant to help remove distractions and help us turn our gaze inward during the last few weeks of Lent; and to give a sense of the loss experienced by the disciples when Jesus was crucified.

Have you noticed signs of Springtime? We are seeing more daytime hours. More birds are chirping every morning. All these are signs that life is returning to a nature that has been sleeping all winter. Soon, those chirping birds will hatch newborns.

We are approaching the end of winter, when nature is renewed and receives new life. We are also approaching the end of Lent, a season during which we are called to spiritual renewal. Those who will be baptized at Easter are called to repentance, and will soon begin a new life in Christ. But we, too, are called to repentance during Lent. As St. Paul says in his Letter to the Philippians (3:12), we are “straining forward to what lies ahead,” because like him, we have not “already attained perfect maturity.” That spiritual “maturity” is something that takes a lifetime to attain; and, it is not an easy task but requires constant, hard work.

We are called during these last weeks of Lent to continue working toward that goal, to continue our journey through the desert, our exodus from our old life of bondage to sin toward a new life of freedom in Christ. Today we are challenged by the Gospel story of the woman caught in adultery. Challenged to see ourselves in the story.

We are challenged to ask do we, like the mob that brings the woman to Jesus, accuse others of wrongdoing? Blame others for my shortcomings? Do I cast stones, even if just by using words as weapons? Am I judgmental of others? Do I compare myself to “them” and see myself as better than “them” because I am here at Mass every weekend? Those Pharisees and scribes in the mob were in the Temple every week, maybe every day; but that in itself would not save them. The woman receives a new life when she comes into a relationship with Jesus. A personal relationship with Jesus is what we are called to.

We are challenged to ask if, like the woman, we are guilty of adultery — spiritual adultery. Do I give my heart totally to God, or do I also allow my life to be controlled by my desires for comfort, pleasure, and wealth? Are there things from which I could have fasted this Lent, maybe from which I should be fasting? What are the things, maybe even people, that prevent me from giving my whole heart, my whole mind, and my whole strength to God, and keep me from loving my neighbor as myself?

We are challenged to see that as unworthy as we are, Jesus does not condemn us. Rather, as John’s Gospel tells us, Jesus came not “to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (Jn 3:17) We are also challenged to become less like the crowd and the woman, and instead become more like Jesus, who does not condemn, who does not judge, who uses words for healing rather than hurting. Jesus says to the woman simply to “go and do not sin anymore.” He does not tell the woman to forget what she has done, nor to dwell on it, simply stop doing it.

There are two weeks remaining before Easter, two weeks to continue and possibly intensify our fasting, praying, and almsgiving in preparation for our celebration of the Resurrection and the promise of eternal life in Christ. There is still time (always) to join St. Paul in his effort to “strain forward to what lies ahead,” and “continue [our] pursuit toward the goal.” May God bless you and your loved ones this holy season of Lent,

Deacon Bob

-March 10, 2013

-March 3, 2013
Once upon a time, there was a small boy who loved superheroes. While he enjoyed wearing the costumes his mom would sew for him, like Spiderman, some of his favorite superheroes were those of his own making.

At the top of the list was Fire Man. His costume included his fireman’s hat, big boots, and his dad’s old navy blazer, which fell below his knees. He always took with him his toy fire truck, with its extension ladder, and a hose his mom had made for him out of wool and stuffed with old rags.

One day while at the park with his dad, dressed in his Fire Man outfit and with hose and toy truck in hand, a real fire truck roared past. Father and son watched in amazement as it stopped just down the block, outside an apartment building that at that moment started to billow smoke. They raced down the sidewalk to watch.

A firefighter standing beside the fire engine noticed the child, who looked just like a tiny fireman, and called out to him with a wave of an arm, “Come on, son; we’ve got work to do!” Shocked, with his eyes just about popping out of his head, the boy stammered, “But I’m not a real fireman! I’m just a small boy!”

God calls on us to be Christ to others and to fight the good fight. But do we just play at it? Do we say, “I’m not really Jesus! I’m nobody special and can’t do much at all”?

When at the Last Supper Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me,” he meant not only that we are to share the eucharistic meal in his memory but also to go forth from that meal and be the Christ in other people’s lives, thanks to the power we receive from consuming his Body and Blood.

While it’s fine for a boy to play at being a fireman, you and I have to be serious about our identity as Christians. For some we might be the only Jesus they’ll ever meet, which requires us to be authentic.

Jesus calls you and me to live heroic lives, as he did Moses. Moses was going about his business tending his family’s sheep, when the Lord manifested himself as a burning bush that the flames didn’t consume. Though Moses wasn’t looking for the Lord, the Lord was seeking him, and we see that Moses responds. He isn’t eager to accept the mission God gives him, objecting that he is a nobody, that the Israelites won’t believe God sent him, and that he doesn’t even know God’s name.

“I Am Who Am,” God informs Moses—a most mysterious name. He promises to be with Moses always, and so Moses heads back to Egypt to confront Pharoah. As the Book of Exodus tells us, Moses performs amazing deeds in the Lord’s name, freeing his people and leading them to the Promised Land.

He is able to do so because the Lord is with him. Jesus says to his disciples at the end of Matthew’s gospel, “I am with you always, until the end of time,” and this being the case, we too are able to perform amazing deeds. Jesus gives us the power to forgive those who hurt us, love those who hate us, heal those who are sick in spirit, bring peace to violent situations, and far more. In such ways as these we are Christ to others.

Yet, like Moses when he first encountered the Lord, we doubt our abilities. Sisters and brothers, we must take our identity as Christians seriously! No, the child dressed as Fire Man didn’t have the ability to really fight fires, but we aren’t play-acting as Christians. Through baptism, confirmation, eucharist, and penance, God has equipped us to be Christ in the world.

Leading others to God by doing as Jesus did is the fruit we must bear. If we don’t, then we will be cut down, like that barren fig tree. Lent is the time for us to heed Jesus’ command and repent, as we heard in our reading from Luke’s gospel. The landlord spared the tree for another year, during which the gardener would fertilize it. This parable says to us that in his mercy God is patient with us.

Prayer is our fertilizer. Time after time Jesus went off by himself to pray, and by that means his Father gave him strength to obey his will in all things. The flaming bush in our lives is prayer, for it is in prayer that we encounter God, just as Moses encountered God in the flaming bush. Through prayer we invite God into our lives, giving God freedom to mold us, and by means of prayer God illuminates our path.

A week from tomorrow our parish mission begins, and its focus happens to be on prayer. As the spiritual director at our diocesan seminary, Fr. John Loya is an expert on prayer, and we can expect to be fertilized a lot under his guidance. Please pray for the success of our mission and join us for it, and in the meantime, by cooperating with God’s grace let us be Jesus in.

-February 24, 2013
“Our citizenship is in heaven.”

There is something special about being on top of a hill or mountain. A hilltop vantage point allows one to see great distances, to see the world from a different perspective, to get one’s bearings. Even looking out from the upper floor of a tall building, the view can be spectacular. From the higher floors of some buildings in downtown Cleveland, on a clear day (we get two of three of those each year), you can see all the way to Canada. Going up a mountain gets one away from cities, away from the congestion, the chaos of day life. Go high enough and we get above the exhaust fumes, into fresher air, we can even climb high enough to be above the clouds.

Frequently, Jesus goes up to a mountain to get away from the crowds and to pray. Today we hear that he takes Peter, James, and John with him to pray on a mountain. Why Peter, James, and John? These were the three leaders of the early Church in Jerusalem. They represent the Church. They represent us. We are invited to go with Jesus to the top of the mountain, to pray, to witness His glory. During this time of Lenten journey, Jesus invites us to come with him up the mountain, away from the concerns of life-as-usual, to examine our life from the mountaintop.

While Jesus is in prayer, he is transfigured. The three apostles see his face “change in appearance” and even his clothing become “dazzling white.” They get a glimpse of the Resurrected Jesus in his Glory. It is also a glimpse into our future because, as St. Paul tells us, Jesus will make our bodies to conform with his Glorified body.

Moses and Elijah appear in the cloud with Jesus. Moses, who brought the Law, the Torah to Israel, speaks with Jesus, who brings a new law. Elijah was considered the greatest of the prophets, who spoke God’s words to the people, speaking with Jesus, who is the Word of God Incarnate. Jesus comes as the fulfillment of what Moses and Elijah represent. They speak with Jesus about His exodus, which will be his death and resurrection. Moses led an exodus of Israel from slavery in Egypt; Jesus will lead us in an exodus from our slavery to oppression, violence, hatred, sin, and death itself. Jesus offers us an exodus into citizenship not in the Promised Land of Canaan, but the Promised Land of Heaven. Again, St. Paul tells us that our real citizenship is in heaven, not in this world.

For the Israelites, the Exodus included a journey of forty years, wandering in the desert, searching for the Promised Land. The desert is a sparsely inhabited place, away from the activity of cities. It is a quiet place. Journeying across the Sinai desert, one will find mountains that appear out of the generally flat land. Just so they came to Mount Sinai where the Commandments were given to Moses, the same mountain where Moses first encountered God in the Burning Bush. Those mountains are places of encounter with the Divine. So it is that the three disciples in today’s story of the Transfiguration encounter the Divine on a mountaintop.

Our exodus journey begins in Baptism, when we become united with the Body of Christ. With every reception of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist we are strengthened for that journey. We come here to celebrate our citizenship in heaven, to worship God who is the source of our life and who is the destination of our journey.

In telling us that we are citizens of heaven, St. Paul also points to others whose “god is their stomach” and whose “minds are occupied with earthly things.” They are more concerned with appeasing their hunger for physical pleasure and comfort than with their spiritual health. They worry more about their own desires than their relationship with God and with their spiritual brothers and sisters. This season of Lent is our time to enter the desert, to fast and to pray, concentrating more than usual on fasting from what we do not really need, and paying more attention to our relationship with God and our neighbor. Our home is not here; we are citizens of heaven. We are surrounded by distractions. Recall last week’s gospel story in which we are told that even Jesus had to overcome temptation; and, the Transfiguration is a glimpse into the future. Today’s gospel passage is preceded by Jesus’ first prediction of his crucifixion.

The journey is not easy. Climbing mountains is difficult work; but it is worth the effort. And we have the grace of God to help us along the way. Remember, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body.”

The journey is difficult, and sometimes we can get discouraged. Like Abram in today’s first reading, we might ask God “How do I know you will do this for me? How can I be sure You are waiting for me at the end this journey?” God offered assurance to Abram by means of an animal sacrifice. God’s answer to us is that this time He provided His own Son as the sacrifice for our assurance.

May God bless you and your loved ones this holy season of Lent,
Deacon Bob

-February 17, 2013
When I was 12 and taking tennis lessons, a point my instructor constantly made was, “Keep your eyes on the ball.” If you aren’t focused on the ball, especially as the face of your racquet meets it, you won’t hit it correctly.

Lent is about focus. It calls on us to focus on our relationship with God. The prayer, fasting, and almsgiving we undertake aren’t about punishing ourselves, any more than self-punishment is why, instead of attending his monthly poker game with his chums, a husband stays home to mind the kids so his wife can spend the evening with an old friend who seldom is in town. He does this out of love for his wife.

The purpose of our Lenten penitential practices is to deepen our love for God. We always are to fix our minds and hearts on God, like a tennis player focusing on the ball. We misunderstand Lent if we pride ourselves on doing without dessert or reading a book of the Bible every week or volunteering at a hunger center. We do these things with our eyes on God not ourselves.

Hopefully we are aware that serving God through prayer, self-denial, and loving deeds is what we owe God every day of our lives. But we pay special attention to these practices during Lent because we want to spruce ourselves up for the biggest event of the Church year, the Triduum, the three days from Holy Thursday night to Easter Sunday night when our minds and hearts are fixed on Jesus Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. It’s like a young lady getting ready for prom night. Though she just about always is attentive to her appearance, she pulls out all the stops because she wants to look especially attractive that night.

We see Jesus keeping his focus on his Father in today’s reading from Luke’s gospel. Satan tries luring Jesus away from doing the Father’s will and instead serving himself. Jesus, as a human, endured temptation, just as we do and as the ancient Israelites did. But he succeeded where they failed and where we often fail, too. During their 40 years in the wilderness, when it came to bread, the Israelites didn’t trust God to meet their needs. But because Jesus trusts, he refuses to provide bread for himself by changing a stone into a loaf of bread.

The Israelites were seduced by the longing for worldly power and wealth. These things are appealing to every human, and Jesus was no exception to this. But to pursue them would have been contrary to his Father’s will that he save the world by means of selfless love. Finally, since we weak humans are prone to question God’s love for us, Jesus also knew that temptation. Therefore, Satan plays on that and seeks to push him into forcing the Father to prove his love.

God blesses us in countless ways, with the intention that those blessings be multiplied through our bestowing them on others in their need. Where we, as did the Israelites of old, frequently fall short, Jesus succeeded. His focus always was on his Father, never on himself. Lent’s purpose is to move us in this direction, since doing so doesn’t come naturally to us. Prayer, fasting, and loving deeds involve dying to ourselves so that, having allowed God to mold us in Jesus’ image during our journey in this world, God might grant us a place with God for eternity.

At the noon Mass tomorrow St. Therese Church will celebrate the rite of sending our catechumen, Don Harper, to his election by the bishop. He will join with hundreds of other catechumens and candidates at the cathedral, where the Church will admit them as fit to take part in the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil. Then Don’s final stage of preparation for the sacraments of initiation begins.

We are sisters and brothers to Don as much as we are to each other, and he depends on the support of our prayers and example. Let us offer him good direction, like a tennis instructor who teaches his pupil to keep his eyes on the ball.

When I play tennis, many of the points I lose result from not keeping my eyes on the ball. In my daily living, I fall into sin because I fail to keep my eyes on heeding God’s will, and the same perhaps goes for you. The sacrament of penance is a game changer. Across the diocese this sacrament will be available this Wednesday from 5-8 p.m. I encourage you to take advantage of it and to personally invite someone you know to return to the Church through confession that evening.

The greatest game changer is Eucharist, which is why we are to receive it every Sunday. Soon we will approach the altar to share in the Body and Blood of Christ, as Don longs to do. With the power that is ours through this sacred meal, let us keep our focus on our relationship with God and encourage each other to imitate Jesus’ example of self-giving.

-February 10, 2013
What truly matters in life is catching people for God, Jesus says in our reading today from Luke’s gospel. This is what Jesus asks of Peter, James, and John, and it’s what he asks of you and me, as well. In our passage from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, God calls Isaiah to embrace the same task, because the chosen people have turned away from God and are on the way to destruction. Isaiah accepts God’s invitation, as does St. Paul in today’s verses from his first Letter to the Corinthians. Salvation is ours through Jesus’ death and resurrection, St. Paul writes. God singled him out to preach this, and all of us who are baptized have the responsibility to share this message.

Isaiah, Peter, James, John, and Paul all were free to decline God’s invitation. However, they allowed themselves to be swept into God’s net. Fish caught in a net die, but we who enter that net’s embrace open ourselves to the fullness of life. Yes, sometimes it does feel like we are dying, because following Jesus brings suffering. To set aside our own will to do God’s will is difficult. Our inclination is toward self-indulgence, but what leads to authentic happiness is self-denial that enables us to serve others out of love for God.

Such service is what we’re about this weekend with the annual Catholic Charities appeal. By generously supporting Catholic Charities, we help the Holy Family Hospice in Parma as it accompanies and comforts people in the final stage of their illness. Our financial sacrifice allows the St. Joseph Homeless Shelter in Lorain to provide a safe place for the night and guidance during a dark time.

A grateful recipient of help from Rose-Mary Center in Euclid, which provides therapy for children with intellectual disabilities, said, “My wife and I had Catherine as our first child. The Rose-Mary Center in effect became part of our family and we never had any concerns about the level of care and the level of love that Catherine got for all these years. It’s just been wonderful.”

Matt Talbot is a center in Cleveland that relies on Catholic Charities in order to provide treatment for people with addictions. It was here, one client said, that “I came to terms with my higher power and spirituality. And that’s where it dawned on me that I was able to be who I was and that I didn’t need drugs or alcohol in my daily living and I was able to move forward with my recovery. It’s a new beginning. A new start.”

I hope that you will offer generous support to this appeal. In fact, let us go even further. A volunteer at the Lorain Family Center in Lorain said, “I feel fortunate that I’ve made a good living and I just want to give back for what the good Lord has given to me.” By imitating Jesus’ example of associating with the poor and the marginalized, like this person, we give ourselves more completely to God and catch others for him. Appreciating the power of prayer, let us also pray for the many in our region who, in their need, depend on us.

-February 3, 2013

-January 27, 2013
As members of the Body of Christ, we are called to “bring glad tidings to the poor… to proclaim a year favorable to the Lord.”

Would it sound odd if I say “It is good that my feet brought my eyes here to see you, my ears to hear your singing, and my mouth to speak the words that my hands wrote during the past few days?” While this statement is certainly correct in a technical sense, it is not correct in a realistic sense. I could say that my hands, feet, eyes, and so on are here today and be correct; but is it not more correct to say that I am here? While I can speak about individual parts of my body, I am one complete body. While my body is made up of individual, distinct parts, those parts exist as one whole body. This is the way Paul speaks about the Church as the Body of Christ.

By baptism, we become more than just members of an organization—the Church. We become members of the Body of Christ. Membership in the Body of Christ is not the same as membership in a club or social organization. It is not the same kind of membership as being in the Scouts. It is membership in a living organism. While the Church is represented by an earthly, human organization, it is much more. The Church, the People of God, is the living Mystical Body of Christ. We are members of the Body of Christ in the way that our hands and feet are members of our bodies.

It is precisely in this sense that St. Paul writes to us in his letter addressed to the Corinthians that “we were all baptized into one body” with many parts. Every part of the body is important. Each part has an important function, and no part is more important than any other. All are equal. All are necessary. Even the “less presentable” parts of the body have an important role in the proper functioning of the body. Without feet, how does one walk? Without eyes, how does one see? Earlier in this same letter, we heard this part last week, Paul wrote that each of us has gifts for the benefit of the community. As one body, we rely on one another’s gifts. The parts of the body work together for the benefit of the entire body.

Paul points out that when one member suffers the entire Body suffers. Is it not true that if you have a headache, it is not only your head that is suffering? If you are driving a nail and hit your thumb with the hammer, it is not just your thumb that is in pain; you are in pain. In the same way, if you are suffering in such a way that your relationship with your neighbor (as Jesus defines neighbor) suffers, then your relationship with the Body of Christ suffers. That means that your suffering has an impact on all the members of the Body of Christ. If I sin, and thereby my ability to pray for you is adversely affected, then you are injured by my sin, and we become disconnected. Fortunately, we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation to provide healing for the relationship between myself and God, between myself and you, between my part in the Body of Christ and the entire Body of Christ. We have the means to heal the Body, to make it whole again.

We are baptized into the Body of Christ. In Confirmation, we “receive the fullness” of the same Spirit that descended on Jesus at his Baptism, and to which he refers in today’s Gospel passage. We strengthen our bond to the Body of Christ every time we celebrate the Eucharist and receive the Real Presence of Christ in Holy Communion.

We also should remember that we have brothers and sisters who have distanced themselves from the Church, who have removed themselves from the Body. Jesus speaks in today’s Gospel passage about bringing glad tidings, proclaiming liberty and a year acceptable to the Lord. Perhaps our absent brothers and sisters have not seen or heard those glad tidings as part of the Body. Perhaps they suffer from captivity or oppression of some kind. When any member of the body is missing, the Body is incomplete and suffers.

We are the Body of Christ present in the world. We are the ones called to carry out the mission that Jesus proclaims in today’s Gospel passage. We are the ones anointed to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free. We are the ones who must show our neighbors that there is good news, that they can be freed from whatever holds them in captivity and oppression, whatever keeps them from seeing the truth that God loves them and desires that they enjoy the salvation and eternal life that God offers.

Knowing this, can we ask…

Lord Jesus,

as part of Your Body,
I ask you to use me to bring glad tidings to all those I meet,
to proclaim their liberty and freedom from oppression.
Lord, use my hands to reach out to those in need of Your healing touch,
use my arms to lift up those who have fallen
and support those who are tired and weak,
use my lips to speak your words,
use my feet to walk among your people.
Lord open my eyes to see your face, and my ears to hear your Word.
Lord, conform my heart to your Sacred Heart that I might learn to love as You- love.”

May God Bless You,
Deacon Bob

-January 20, 2013
There’s this story about Miles and Jack, and wine plays a big part. Miles wants to treat his great friend Jack to a week of glorying in the wines of California. Jack is about to get married, and Miles, who is a connoisseur of wine, thinks this experience will be a last big hurrah with his friend.

These two middle-aged men go off on a road trip through California wine country. Miles, a failed wine writer who hates his job teaching English, focuses on wine, while Jack, an actor who has doubts about his impending marriage and is depressed about his failed marriage, shows much more interest in the women whose paths they cross. And the plot moves on from there, in the 2004 comic film Sideways.

For these two, wine either is to be appreciated or to be consumed to excess. In today’s passage from the Gospel of John, wine represents something quite different, for it points to the heavenly banquet.

God created the universe out of love, with the human race at the pinnacle of creation. The familiar intimacy between God and Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was ruined by human sin. Ever since then God’s purpose has been to make us one with God once more. God’s primary tool in this is the people of Israel, who descended from Abraham. Led by Moses from slavery in Egypt, they quickly lost sight of God, a pattern they repeated throughout the centuries.

Eventually this lack of faith brought upon them the disaster of the Babylonian exile. It figures in our verses from Isaiah, for by this time our ever-merciful God has restored the repentant Israelites to the Promised Land. To represent the intimate unity that God wants, the prophet paints a picture of God as bridegroom and his people as God’s bride. “As a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you,” Isaiah says.

Sadly, the Israelites returned to their old ways. But God’s plans cannot be thwarted, and through Jesus’ death and resurrection the people of God we know as the Church and as the new Israel have become God’s bride.

As Sideways ends, Miles’ devotion to wine has led him to a promising relationship with another wine-lover named Maya. For you, me, and all God’s children, the superb wine that in huge abundance Jesus has miraculously transformed from water also is about relationship. It is a call to praise God for revealing himself to the world by means of Jesus. Because wine in abundance is a scriptural symbol for life with God in heaven, this miracle speaks to us abut the eternal life that awaits us in heaven if we, the bride, cling to Jesus, our bridegroom, through thick and thin. By so doing, humankind’s original intimacy with God will be restored.

And so let us cling to our bridegroom by allowing God to use us as instruments in carrying on Jesus’ work of healing, spreading the Good News, practicing forgiveness, and serving as the face of God’s love. Whatever gifts God has given us to manifest himself, may we put them at God’s disposal, through the grace imparted to all who eat Jesus’ Body and drink his Blood.

-January 13, 2013
In the movie Iron Man, Tony Stark experiences a conversion. He’s a brilliant engineer who owns a multi-billion dollar company that creates weaponry for the military, weaponry which has killed countless people in warzones, including many who were innocent bystanders.

Tony hasn’t let that bother him, but then terrorists capture him in Afghanistan, where he is demonstrating a new weapon. The terrorist attack has left him with a severe wound to his heart. He is alive only because another captive, Yinsen, operated on him. But Yinsen wasn’t able to remove all the shrapnel from Tony’s heart and so has rigged up a special magnet to prevent the remaining shrapnel from shifting and killing him.

The terrorists force Tony to build them a deadly missile. While pretending to do so, he actually constructs an armored suit. He finishes it just in time, but in the fight that follows, Yinsen is mortally wounded while helping Tony to escape. Before dying, he urges Tony not to waste his second chance at life.

Tony returns to the U.S. a very different man, one who is determined to use his engineering genius and technology no longer to build weapons but to battle against evil. The armored suit is essential in Tony’s work, as is the special device he has created to protect his heart and allow it to function.

In our passage today from Luke’s gospel, Jesus, like Tony, is a different man after an amazing experience. While Tony is changed because of Yinsen, it is Jesus’ baptism and subsequent encounter with the Holy Spirit that affects him. It is after this experience that his public ministry begins, as he goes about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil.

You and I also have encountered the Holy Spirit—in baptism. The Spirit has changed us and formed us to be a light to others. Jesus was the light to the nations. He opened the eyes of the blind: those who were blind to the truth that all humans are brothers and sisters who must love and protect one another. Tony Stark’s conversion experience taught him this lesson, and it’s a lesson that the Holy Spirit always is repeating in our hearts.

Loving other people because God loves them: This is the work God has given us through baptism. We are able to love because God has bestowed the Spirit upon us, the Spirit who provides us with far greater protection and power to do good than even Iron Man has at his disposal.

Graced by eucharist, let us cooperate with the Holy Spirit who has worked conversion in us, so that one day God will say to each of us, “You are my beloved child; with you I am well pleased.”

-January 6, 2013
“In this corner is the world heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed. And in this corner is the challenger, Rocky Balboa.”

Rocky, the hero of the 1976 movie by the same name, is a small time Philadelphia boxer given a shot at the heavy-weight title. Of course, all the smart money is on Apollo Creed, but isn’t it possible that the underdog will pull an upset?

Shifting the scene to our passage from Matthew’s gospel, we find, “In this corner is the champ, wily and wicked King Herod, who has thrashed all who’ve taken him on. And in this corner is his challenger, in his first bout, Jesus, the newborn king of the Jews.”

And again, the smart money is on Herod. What chance does a five-pound baby have against this bloody tyrant? Well, Jesus’ trainers are the other members of the Holy Family, Mary and Joseph, and his manager reigns on high, so that shifts the odds a bit.

In sports contests, picking the winner often depends on finding someone who is wise to the ins and outs of the game. Who would fit that bill in our gospel? Well, we could go with the chief priests and scribes. They have to be a sharp group, considering they know where to find the infant king. But wouldn’t the magi be a better choice? These astrologers are the first to pick up on the key clue, the star that announces this king’s birth, and they doggedly have followed it.

What message are we to take from this story that brings us such contrasts: Herod vs. Jesus, the chief priests and scribes vs. the magi?

Matthew is giving us the first whiff of the battle between life and death that is the core of his gospel. Of course, we know that it ends with Jesus as victorious, even though it appears he gets permanently knocked out on the cross.

The good news for us is that evil, represented by Herod and his advisers and later the Romans, which appears so overwhelmingly powerful, cannot possibly prevail against divine love, which Jesus personifies. For you and me, who are so small, the forces in our world that oppose us as Jesus’ disciples look like they’ll crush us. Yet, recall that David, though dwarfed by giant Goliath, slew him in battle. As David’s slingshot did the trick, so will the power of our faith. Remember that Jesus said that a tiny bit of faith, the size of a mustard seed, will move a mountain.

Through baptism we have placed our bet on Jesus. In eucharist we get pepped up to stick with him. With that extra pep, we go forth from here to carry on what the magi began: to present our gifts to Jesus, especially the gift of ourselves. And let us also play the role of that star in the sky, by leading others to Jesus, so that they may share in his victory.

-December 30, 2012

-Christmas 2012
From a distant place he came into the world as an infant. Many were the times when he amazed his parents, who could only marvel over him. Grown to manhood, he went about doing good with surprising powers that were unique to him. Many people looked upon him as their savior on account of what he did for them.

Yes, Superman, known to many as Clark Kent, is an incredible figure in our culture. This comic book character, created by a Clevelander named Jerry Siegel and his friend Joe Shuster, has spawned TV shows, movies, action figures, Halloween costumes, and much more.

You would be forgiven for thinking I was talking about Jesus, known to many as the Son of God, for the parallels between him and Superman are many. The Son of God came from a distant place called heaven not Krypton. During his childhood Jesus was a source of astonishment for Mary and Joseph as well as the teachers in the temple. And as an adult he amazed others by his power to heal, cast out demons, quiet storms, and raise the dead.

There are many differences, of course, between Jesus and Superman. One of them is that you and I will never become Superman. We never will develop super powers that enable us to fly by our own power or deflect bullets or see through solid objects with x-ray vision.

Though we never can become Superman, we can and are meant to become Christ. It’s for this reason that God willed that the Word should become flesh. What we celebrate on Christmas is that the Son of God became a man so that man and woman might become God.

In baptism we put on Christ as we die and rise with him. Confirmation conforms us even more closely with him. “Do this in memory of me,” Jesus’ words from the Last Supper that we hear at every Mass, command us not only to remember him by means of the Mass but also to do what he did, strengthened by eucharist.

So we forgive. We visit the sick and prisoners. We cheer up the lonely. We practice boundless generosity, including feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. We identify with the outcast. We work for peace and justice. We carry on the battle against evil. We praise God through worship and prayer. To go this route is to become Christ for others.

One way we never will be like Jesus has to do with sin. Unlike the Sinless One, we must contend with our sinfulness every moment of our lives. That the human race was lost and hopeless due to sin was the reason for God becoming man and then accepting death on the cross. (At 4:30 and midnight: In this way Jesus fulfilled the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.”) (At 10 and 12: In this way, as we hear in John’s gospel, he was the light of the human race, the light that shines in the darkness, never to be overcome.)

Jesus is the light that will never be extinguished by the darkness. By his victory over sin and death he is hope for all creation. His cross and resurrection changed the course of human history, revealing to us that God will stop at nothing to unite us to God.

And if we say yes, as Mary did, and continue that assent throughout the course of our journey in this world, we will give hope to other people and brighten their lives with Christ’s light. Then we indeed will become God, as God draws us into full unity with God when we come to the end of our earthly life.

Bullets never will bounce off of us, and we never will soar through the sky all on our own, because there’s only one Superman. But by our self-giving love, let us fulfill God’s intention that all of us become Christ in this world and God in the next.

-December 23, 2012
We survived December 21, the day that the Mayan calendar ended, according to some people signaling the end of the world.

It is also the day of the Winter Solstice; the day when we in the Northern Hemisphere experience the “shortest day” of the year, with the longest period of darkness. Now we will begin seeing the sun stay a bit longer every day. Recent events remind us of the darkness of evil that surrounds us, that is present to some degree around and within each of us.

For the people to whom Micah was writing, it may indeed have seemed that their world was coming to an end. Judah had been invaded by Assyria. Their leaders taken captive or killed. Indeed, women and children may have been slaughtered. For all of them, the world as they knew it had come to an end. But God said to them through Micah, that a better time would come.

There would be a savior, a ruler descended from David who would reign. For Mary, it could have seemed that her world was coming to an end, crashing down around her. We sometimes glamorize the story of the Annunciation and the Visitation, when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was pregnant with God’s Son, and Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. But in fact, Mary was a young girl, probably about fourteen years old, pregnant, and the man to whom she is engaged is not the father of her child. What thoughts must have been going through her head. “What will my friends think?” “What is Joseph going to say?” “How am I going to tell mom and dad?” It could have seemed like her world was coming to an end. She could not have known what was coming, but she said “Yes” to God’s messenger.

Today we hear about Mary going “in haste” to visit her relative Elizabeth, who is also pregnant. Mary, too young, a virgin, and obscure young girl from an obscure little town, meeting her cousin Elizabeth, unable to have children her entire life, now too old for child bearing, in an unnamed town in the hill country, but who is also expecting a child. Mary, carrying Jesus the Son of God in her womb, goes to visit Elizabeth, carrying John the Baptist who will announce the coming of Jesus. Even now, before Mary tells Elizabeth anything about her condition, the not yet born John knows who has arrived. “Blessed are you among women,” Elizabeth tells Mary. Blessed even though her world may be crashing down around her. Neither of these two women can know what is coming. They know the future will not be easy. Mary at this point is a very young, teenaged, unwed, expectant mother. Elizabeth is an older woman, past childbearing age who is going to have a baby to care for. They are nonetheless filled with the joy and peace that comes from saying “Yes” to God’s will.

Mary, having heard the word of God spoken by an angel, and carrying the Christ child within her, goes in haste to share that good news with Elizabeth; and the two of them rejoice. Mary, the mother of Jesus, the Mother of God, is also Mother of the Church, our mother. She is the first disciple of Jesus, who heard the Word of God, allowed Jesus to enter her womb, and then proclaimed that good news. It is fitting that we honor her, and call on her to intercede for us. The angel Gabriel greeted Mary with the words “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you.” Elizabeth greeted her with the words “Blessed are you among women; and Blessed is the fruit of your womb.” How appropriate that we use those words ourselves in prayer.

When we gather here, we too hear the word of God proclaimed in Scripture; and we receive the Body of Christ in Communion. The Word and Sacrament are planted within us to take root and grow, so that we can carry Christ within us. And then we are sent forth to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel, like Mary, to our families, our friends, and the world, to make Christ present to everyone we encounter.

God uses the small, the weak, the outcast to do God’s will and to build the Kingdom. Even when our world may seem to be falling apart, when all seems to be darkness, we can take comfort in Elizabeth’s words, “Blessed are you who believe that what the Lord has spoken will be fulfilled.

May the Peace of Christ
be Yours this Christmas
and Throughout the New Year,
Deacon Bob

-December 16, 2012
In the story of King Arthur, Arthur is the illegitimate son of Uther Pendragon, the King of ancient Britain. King Uther has died, and the times are very dangerous, with Britain’s enemies threatening to annihilate them. The people yearn for a king to protect them, unaware that he already is in their midst. Soon he will draw the enchanted sword Excalibur from the stone, and then he will destroy the foreign hordes that seek to take Britain for themselves.

As Arthur was in the midst of the people, though unknown, in Luke’s gospel Jesus is in the midst of Israel and soon to be revealed. The people yearn, long, hunger for the messiah, as this passage indicates. Might John be he?

We too long for the peace and right relationships the messiah brings. How profoundly we feel this today, touched as we are by the horror of 20 little children and seven adults murdered in Connecticut by a mentally-ill gunman barely out of his teens.

But the savior we crave already has made himself known. He already has inaugurated his peaceful kingdom. He did so with his baptism, when the Spirit filled him, and by his cross and resurrection he has conquered sin and death.

So, does the evil manifested by such a horrendous event as this mean that the messiah, the savior, has abandoned us, that, along with the Father and Holy Ghost, he has “caught the last train for the coast,” as Don McClean sings in American Pie? No, God remains with us and always will. The fact that we human beings inflict such harm on one another doesn’t signify God’s absence but rather that we aren’t cooperating enough with God in battling evil.

The Evil One is like a dictator who will cling to power until the bitter end against the oppressed who have risen against him and slowly are overpowering him. Just as that dictator still has the ability to inflict great harm, even though his defeat is inevitable, the same is true of Satan. When we humans fail to resist Satan and give free rein to our sinfulness, the result is mayhem.

When Christ returns in glory, God will bring to full fruit the good and the beauty that he visited upon the world when Jesus wrapped himself in human flesh. That good and that beauty continue to spread and blossom nowadays only because we do our part, as God empowers us to do through Jesus Christ, with whom we died and were raised in baptism. Such power is ours on account of this sacrament, along with eucharist, penance, and the other sacraments, as well as our prayer and the intercession and example of the saints.

“What should we do?”, the crowds asked John the Baptist, as did such ill-reputed people as tax collectors and soldiers, both of whom were notorious for abusing their power. Even these collaborators with the occupying Romans yearned for the blessings the messiah would bring.

It seems they were open to John’s message of repentance. Let us cultivate that very same openness. The anger that must have fueled that gunman in Connecticut isn’t foreign to any of us. None of us is immune to the greed that is so manifest in the world. The blindness that allows poverty to thrive in our community, nation, and world too often touches good people like us.

In our first reading and the responsorial psalm the prophets Zephaniah and Isaiah proclaim to the people of Israel that God is in their midst. He remains among us now. As St. Paul tells us, truly the Lord is near, not just regarding his second coming but dwelling among us still. The expectation of the messiah’s coming that filled the people listening to John the Baptist in our gospel passage already has been realized.

Though with his resurrection the Savior returned to his Father, he continues to show us the way, thanks to the Holy Spirit, who descended upon the Church on that first Pentecost and who filled each of us at baptism.

God has given us the means to transform the world into a kingdom of peace, beauty, and right relationships and guides us in employing those means. But God needs from us the same yes that the Virgin Mary gave when God asked her to be the mother of his Son. Let us give it, loud and clear, now and every moment of our lives.

-December 9, 2012
Your life is wreckage scattered at your feet. All that you worked for is like dust in the wind: your career, your family, your health, your self-respect. Drained of hope, to you the world is a hostile place, and all you have left are tears.

Possibly you have endured such suffering, due to alcoholism or job loss or divorce or the death of someone dear to you. I suspect that this image rings true to some of our parishioners or their relatives as they fled from ruined Europe to America after World War II. Perhaps this was how the prophet Jeremiah and his contemporaries felt, due to the disaster of the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem and the exile that followed, almost 600 years before Jesus’ birth.

Baruch was Jeremiah’s secretary, but this book that bears his name was written by an anonymous person several hundred years after the exiles had been allowed to return to Israel. It might have been intended for the many Jews who still lived outside the Promised Land, the descendants of those who had been scattered throughout the Middle East as refugees all those years before.

Whatever the case, it assures us that bleak misery undoubtedly will give way to splendor and glory, thanks to the great things God does for us. Our hearts will rejoice, like a barren desert transformed into a luxurious garden by bountiful rain.

All creation will be thus blessed because of God’s love, a love fully revealed in Jesus’ birth, life, passion, and resurrection. It is happening already and will come to full fruit with Christ’s second coming.

True though this is, it might strike some as a fairy tale. How right they would be, if such a future depended on human wisdom. However, God’s power and might will bring about what exceeds our meager abilities.

I have experienced proof of this, as perhaps you have, too. I refer to persons lost to drugs and alcohol whom God led to sobriety and a happiness they considered unattainable. I have in mind individuals in the throes of mental breakdown and depression who saw their lives as defined by a gloom that would never lift and to whom suicide alone offered relief. Yet, God’s light dawned for them, as it unfailingly does if we present God with even the smallest opening into our hearts.

The turning point for the exiled Israelites was the realization that only God could save them and that God hungered to do so. We humans, weak and broken as we are, cannot save ourselves, but we fool ourselves into thinking we can. The people of Israel suffered exile because they trusted in themselves instead of God. During their decades in Babylon they discerned what is of value, as Paul says, and rebuilt their friendship with God.

Let us also discern what is of value, using these Advent days for

that purpose. What in our lives might hold more value to us than God? Is there something or someone other than God that we look to for security? It is of these that we sinners need to repent, heeding John the Baptist, whom in our reading from Luke’s gospel God called to preach repentance to his fellow Jews.

The light has dawned, for Jesus overcame sin and death. God will fill the world with splendor and glory, no matter how unlikely that sometimes appears. We hasten that day the more we pitch in to do our part, as we turn from sin and share the gospel by means of our loving deeds, especially for the afflicted.

-December 2, 2012
Frantic cramming versus steady, ongoing preparation. What was your approach to getting ready for exams during your years as a student?

How well I remember the almost sickening feeling that I was standing on the brink of disaster as the hour of reckoning loomed. I had put off my reading and studying too long, telling myself I had plenty of time. On the other hand, there were those occasional times when I felt like I really knew the material and was supremely prepared for anything the instructor would throw at me.

Today’s readings remind us that one day the show will come to an end, just as a school semester does. The end of the show climaxes with Jesus’ coming in glory. Since it’s not possible to cram for that, let us practice steady, ongoing preparation.

Our images from Luke’s gospel aren’t to be understood literally insofar as eclipses or the sun reversing direction or powerful earthquakes or tribulations. Such colorful language is borrowed from the Old Testament to remind us of God’s awesome might. Just as a sense of awe likely would overcome you if the Queen of England or the President of the United States suddenly joined you for dinner, the author depicts how all creation will be awed by Jesus’ return on the last day.

On that day, Jesus says, “Stand erect and raise your heads high because your redemption is at hand.” We can do just that if, as St. Paul urges, we have conducted our lives to please God. By doing so we heed Jesus’ warning to be vigilant at all times.

Psalm 25 is our responsorial psalm, and it points out that God shows sinners the way. So the Father did by means of his Son’s incarnation via Mary’s womb, culminating in his death and resurrection. As long as we follow the way Jesus showed us, the prospect of his second coming should cause no fear in us. That day will not catch us by surprise like a trap.

What distractions in a person’s student days interfere with readiness for the inevitable day of exams? Often it’s the product of those false but reassuring words you say to yourself, “Oh, I’ve got plenty of time.” So you go out with your friends too often, or devote more attention to your girlfriend or boyfriend than you can afford, or convince yourself that the hours needed for that part-time job you’ve been offered won’t detract that much from your study time.

It happens that in just the same way we allow ourselves to become all wrapped up in this world’s concerns.

So, what will our lives be about? Accumulating money and material things, or accumulating heavenly wealth? Focusing on the path to career success, or following Jesus’ path to the cross? Enjoying the creature comforts and indulging our physical wants, all the while telling ourselves we have plenty of time, or denying ourselves so that we can give to others?

If my life has revolved around God and service to those who suffer, I will stand erect and raise my head when Jesus comes in glory, but if my life has revolved around me, on that day I will cower in fear.

All of us are sinners who struggle between indulging ourselves and giving our all to God. That we might be ready to welcome Jesus eagerly at his coming, let us cleanse our hearts without delay. I hope all of you will join us for the parish communal penance service next Sunday at 3 p.m.

The great King is coming, and steady, ongoing preparation rather than frantic cramming is the only way to make ourselves ready.

-November 25, 2012
By Baptism we are made citizens of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, and are called to build the Kingdom in our daily lives.

Think for a few seconds, do you know anyone who has dual citizenship? In fact, you do, because every baptized Christian has dual citizenship. Most of us gathered here are citizens of this country, and our baptism makes us citizens of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. In fact, our Baptism makes us sharers in the kingship of Christ.

During his trial, Pilate wants to know if Jesus is a king. There is no simple answer to Pilate’s question because Pilate has his own concept of what a king is. Pilate’s idea of a king, which he shares with most of those in power, is a king who rules by intimidation, who commands armies of occupation, and who is feared by his subjects. Jesus, in contrast, is a king who rules with kindness and compassion, who offered himself on the cross for his people, and whose subjects serve one another out of love.

Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, because the kingdoms of this world are concerned with gaining wealth, protecting themselves, and keeping strangers out. Christ’s kingdom is concerned with sharing wealth with the needy, with gathering all people together peacefully, and with inviting strangers in.

Jesus rules as a king who reveals Truth itself. Jesus is the Truth, the Way, and the Life. (Jn.14:6) Because he is the Son of God, because he is God the Son, he is “ruler of the kings of the earth.” (Rev.1:5) When all of creation comes to an end, as all things do, God will remain. Jesus, as the Second Person of the Trinity, will remain, and so will his reign as King. “His dominion is an everlasting dominion… his kingship shall not be destroyed.” (Dan.7:14)

Christ is the eternal King who rules over us for eternity. His is the Kingdom to which we belong. “All peoples, nations, and languages serve Him.” (Dan.7:14) Some serve Him well, some not so well, and some choose to serve other masters. But in the end every knee will bow, and every tongue will proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord. (Philippians.3:10–11)

As citizens of Christ’s Kingdom, we are subject to the laws of His Kingdom, and called to imitate His life. There is only one law, in two parts, on all others are based: Love the Lord your God with all your being, and love your neighbor. (Mk.12:30–31) Jesus also told us how to live in the Kingdom: Blessed are the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers…(Mt.5:3-10) This is not the kind of King or kingdom that Pilate and the Jewish leaders were looking for. Jesus is a just, merciful, meek, compassionate, self-sacrificing king whom we are called to imitate.

We pray in The Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done.” If God’s Kingdom is to be established, and God’s will is to be done “on earth as in heaven,” then it must first be done in our earthly lives, in our Christian homes and institutions; and, any act that violates Christ’s law of love is incompatible with the Kingdom. That is one reason why our Catholic institutions cannot agree to provide, or even pay for certain medical procedures and prescriptions that violate Catholic moral teaching. Christ’s law of love for all persons, from their conception to their natural death must take precedence.

As citizens of the Kingdom of God, living in a “foreign land,” (Eph.2:19) as citizens also of another country we are called to bring about as much as possible the reign of Christ here and now, in preparation for His Coming at the end of time. How does my life witness to the presence of the Kingdom in my life?

Can we pray sincerely, in the depth of our being, “Lord, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth, in my life, today, as it is in heaven, by my serving Christ, the King of the Universe and of my life.”

May God bless you,
Deacon Bob

-November 18, 2012
Terror. Violence. Devastation. Despair. Darkness. Death raining down from the sky. The downfall of civilizations. People fleeing, not knowing where to go. The end of the world is at hand.

Such is the apocalyptic setting that faces Ray Ferrier, played by Tom Cruise, in the 2005 film The War of the Worlds, based on the 1898 novel by H.G. Wells. The movie starts with Ferrier arriving at his ex-wife’s house in an urban neighborhood in New Jersey to pick up his two kids for his weekend visitation. Suddenly, amid strange lightning storms, death-ray robotic spaceships appear and start blasting buildings, cars, and people. A Martian invasion has begun. Ferrier grabs his children and flees, along with tens of thousands of other terrified people. But where will they find safety?

Many people harbor fear of an end of the world, not so much in this form as in nuclear Armageddon or a planet poisoned by pollution at human hands. In the original H.G. Wells story, these horrific events occur in his native England and in part reflect the fear felt by many English people that the end of the world would befall them at midnight on the last day of 1899. If you recall, a lot of folks in the U.S. struggled with the same concerns as the turn of the 21st century approached.

I suspect that an ever greater concern which gnaws at people is the collapse of a world they’re familiar with, replaced by one offering fewer opportunities to thrive, a bleak future for their children, growing political instability, increased poverty, and a society that is cold and uncaring.

The people addressed by our readings today from Daniel and Mark understood such worries. The Jews in Palestine 165 years before Jesus, for whom the Book of Daniel was written, were suffering a terrible persecution by the foreign power that ruled them. Mark wrote his gospel to the Christians in Rome, who also had recently been horribly persecuted by Emperor Nero.

Part of the purpose of these two books was to encourage those suffering on account of their faith. Have confidence in God’s power, and trust that victory awaits: This was their message, in keeping with those words we heard in Psalm 16, “You will not abandon my soul to the netherworld.”

Maybe to some here today the future looks a bit frightening. Jesus encourages us to persevere and be confident that God will produce something unimaginably new and great. “We look forward to his second coming” are reassuring words we will hear during the eucharistic prayer. They remind us that Christ will inaugurate a new world, one that has been taking shape ever since his conception in the Virgin Mary’s womb.

This is a world that you and I, through our baptism, have the responsibility to help build. Through our participation in this eucharist we are doing so, as we also do when we go forth from here as ambassadors of Christ.

We don’t know what challenges we will encounter in the future. However, we can be confident that God will help us to overcome them, as God did for his faithful children who endured persecution in 2nd century B.C. Palestine and 1st century A.D. Rome.

In the end, the Martians of The War of the Worlds failed in their invasion of Earth. The power of evil aligned against us also will fail, for hasn’t Jesus already won the victory through his death and resurrection? Therefore, let us persevere, ever placing our confidence in God’s love and power.

-November 11, 2012
We’re to hold back nothing from God. That’s the lesson of the two widows in today’s readings.

You know, Peter held back from God in the courtyard on the night Jesus was arrested. Sometimes I wonder when his transformation occurred that made it possible for him to hold nothing back. There’s a story that when Peter was in Rome during the terrible persecutions against the Christians there in the 60s, he decided to hightail it out of town. On his way he met a man who was walking toward Rome. He asked him why he was doing such a foolish thing, only to hear him respond, "I am going back to be crucified again." Realizing it was Jesus, Peter returned to the city and accepted martyrdom. Maybe at some point earlier in their lives these two widows wouldn’t have been so unstintingly generous. Perhaps some event transformed them. If you ever saw the movie Schindler’s List, you know that Oscar Schindler was a German businessman and Nazi party member who used Jewish slave labor to make a fortune during World War II. This story, a true one, tells about Schindler’s war-profiteering in Poland. He employs Polish Jews in his factory because they are willing to work for less than Polish Catholics.

Jews are being exterminated by the Nazis, as Schindler knows. His workers are spared this, for a time. This man, who loves his wealthy lifestyle, undergoes a transformation that isn’t fully explained in the movie. The time comes when all the Jews are to be shipped to concentration camps. Empathy for the Jewish people Schindler has come to know prompts him to spend his entire fortune on bribes to the Nazis, in a terribly risky effort to save his workers—1,000 people—from nearly certain death. And he succeeds.

Jesus’ love, like his Father’s, knew no limits. Therefore, when he had to choose between his desire to live and his determination to do his Father’s will, he decided to hold nothing back but accept arrest, crucifixion, and death. At this point in Mark’s gospel Jesus already has arrived in Jerusalem, and the Last Supper soon will take place.

This setting helps us to understand what’s going on in today’s gospel verses. Jesus’ praise for the widow who holds nothing back but gives all she has to the temple treasury has to be seen against the background of what he’s about to do: surrender everything—his very life—out of love for his Father and us human beings, his sisters and brothers.

Oscar Schindler risked everything to save 1,000 Jewish slaves. The widow of our gospel passage gave to God her last two coins, just as the widow in our reading from the First Book of Kings served Elijah her last morsel of bread. Peter returned to Rome to embrace martyrdom, in imitation of Jesus’ complete gift of himself to his Father.

The message to us is that we are to hold nothing back from God. In what manner might we give in the week ahead so as to imitate these two holy widows, who are models of Jesus’ unstinting love? May each of us reach the point when we let go of everything we cling to more than to God.

-November 4, 2012
The conversation took a serious turn. The two men were long-time friends, having worked together and played on the same softball team for years.

“Yeah, sometimes I talk against Blacks,” one admitted to the other. He said this reluctantly, in response to his friend’s question. Their construction jobs brought them into contact with all different kinds of people, as did their neighborhood, and they’d learned that everybody’s dreams and concerns are the same. Still, we fall so easily into that sinful “us versus them” mentality.

How do you and I fare regarding Jesus’ lesson in Mark’s gospel, that we love God with all your being and love your neighbor as ourselves?

The other day I watched the movie District Nine, which really pushed me on this question. It opens with a huge alien spaceship hovering silently over Johannesburg, South Africa. Twenty years before it had appeared out of nowhere. Upon entering the vessel, the military found thousands of starving aliens, who resembled giant shrimp.

A mission was undertaken to save them, and it succeeded. But now a huge refugee camp of a million of these creatures sprawls like a sordid ghetto below the ship. The people of South Africa don’t know what to do with these aliens, who are derisively called “prawn.” They clearly are intelligent, as their technology testifies. The humans and the aliens have learned each other’s language and engage in trade, but the foreign creatures suffer terribly from bigotry.

The government decides the camp has to be closed and its inmates moved to a new site far from Johannesburg. It is done brutally. A middle management type in the agency that deals with the aliens is appointed to lead the effort. If he’d been savvier, Wikus would never have accepted the position, because he is being set up. The government knows moving the prawn will be a messy job and needs a fall guy.

It goes more wrong than anyone expects. While searching one of the hovels for weapons, Wikus accidentally sprays himself with a strange liquid contained in a container he has found. Over the next several days, something horrible begins happening: His body starts to change, first with his injured left arm, which transforms into that of a prawn.

His agency takes him away, recognizing that someone who is half human and half prawn is a treasure chest for biotechnology. They no longer see Wikus as a full human being but as an object to be exploited. Medical experiments begin, but Wikus manages to escape. His former colleagues are determined to hunt him down, and the only place where he can find refuge is in the prawns’ ghetto.

The movie goes on from there, as Wikus comes to identify with the alien creatures he once looked upon scornfully, and he helps one of them, named Christopher, in his desperate bid to save his race.
If your neighbor looks like a large shrimp, it’s not too hard to view him or her as “one of them.” Tragically, we sinful humans have a long history of dividing ourselves into the categories of us and them. The ancient Romans did so, labeling as barbarians just about anybody who wasn’t of their culture or the Greek. The ancient Chinese did likewise.

The settlers in the New World saw the Native Americans as “one of them” and did so just as much concerning people shipped in chains from Africa. Later the same pattern continued toward Irish immigrants, followed by Chinese, Italians, and Vietnamese newcomers.

Persecution by Nazis against Jews, Serbs against Bosnians in the former Yugoslavia, and Hutus against Tutsis in Rwanda perpetuated the cycle. It’s ongoing in many places around the world. In the U.S. today, persons who are Black or Hispanic or Muslim or gay or ex-cons or babies in the womb are among those whose position as neighbor often is at risk, despite Jesus’ teaching. This even happens between candidates whose political parties are different, as well as their respective supporters.

In Mark, Jesus has entered into Jerusalem, where he has cleansed the temple and is enduring growing opposition from Jewish religious leaders. This is the background for today’s reading. The priests, scribes, and Pharisees clearly don’t view Jesus as their neighbor, for if they did, they wouldn’t be plotting his death.

Though it’s a lot harder to dehumanize other people than a bunch of large, shrimp-like aliens living next door, the human race has quite a track record of doing so. We come by the attitude of “us versus them” far too easily. Towards whom are you and I guilty of this? That wasn’t the way of Jesus. In eating his Body and drinking his Blood we, his disciples, celebrate our oneness with him who is brother to every person. With the help of God’s mercy and grace, let us love everyone as neighbor and consider nobody “one of them.”

-All Saints 2012
“It’s not what you know but whom you know.”

We’re all familiar with this saying, which tells us that you can be the best candidate for a job, but the person who gets it frequently can credit that achievement to a relative or friend that pulled strings for him or her.

That doesn’t seem fair to me and you, but I’d say that in the most important case of all, it’s good luck for us.

That most important case involves salvation, and the people we know are the saints in heaven, whom we remember today.

These folks are our friends. They root for us as we journey towards heaven. Their prayers give us a boost, as does the example of their holy lives.

This notion of the importance of friends in the highest place of all, heaven, goes back to the earliest days of the Church. In the ancient catacombs of Rome, where countless early Christians were buried for nearly 300 years, until the practice of Christianity was legalized by the Roman Empire, graffiti has been found at the places where martyrs were laid to rest.

This graffiti is ancient and was made by other Christians who were asking the martyrs, like Peter and Paul, to pray for them. From the earliest days, martyrs were believed to go straight to heaven because they shed their blood for Jesus. The conviction was that these friends of God had God’s ear.

In fact, to be buried next to a martyr was something Christians craved. The belief was that as the martyr’s body was resurrected on the last day, those buried closest to him or her might have an advantage—in the sense that they could hand on to that person’s coattails and be swept up to heaven at the same time.

Could a saint’s prayers convince God to admit me to heaven? I don’t know about that. But a saint’s prayers on my behalf might help me to open my heart more to God’s love, for prayer is very powerful. And a saint’s example might persuade me to try to live a better life.

All Saints’ Day is in memory of those countless saints who are unknown to the Church and so don’t have their own feast day. While I trust in the prayers of the known saints, like Therese of Lisieux and Francis of Assisi, it sure is good to have the support of other friends in high places.

We thank God for these men, women, and children who have gone before us. Like us they fell short but, nourished by eucharist like us, and tasting God’s mercy as we do, they imitated Jesus to an extraordinary degree and provide us with hope that we can do likewise. Sweeney, Corrigan, McCormack, Gallagher, Celebrezze or Russo: recognized names that can lead to a judicial seat in our county. One man changed his name to Sweeney, his wife’s last name, to give him an edge in winning a seat. Today we celebrate the birthday of countless friends. The early Christians considered the day of death to be the birthday into true life, which is why a saint’s feast day so often is the day he or she died or as close to it as possible.

Like Bartimaeus, can we acknowledge our blindness and cry out “Jesus, Son of David, Lord, have mercy. I want to see!”

Anyone who wears eyeglasses or contact lenses has had the experience of seeing clearly after a time of blurred or distorted vision. I remember the first time I put on my newly prescribed glasses and saw things properly for the first time. Many people suffer from one or another kind of vision impairment or distortion. It might be near-sightedness or far-sightedness, astigmatism, or color-blindness. All of these vision impairments cause our vision to be distorted. Sin causes a kind of vision impairment. It prevents us from seeing things with proper spiritual vision.

Bartimaeus is blind. Sitting by the side of the road outside Jericho he does the only thing he can do to earn a living. He begs for alms, relying on the charity of those who walk by. He comes every day to the same spot, sits in the dust, and spreads out his cloak to catch whatever coins the people passing by might toss his way.

Today, there is a commotion at the city gate. Someone important must be coming. Batimaeus listens. It is Jesus of Nazareth. “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” Bartimaeus shouts. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy!” He may be blind, but he sees Jesus for who he is: the Messiah, the Son of David, the One who has come to bring salvation. People around Bartimaeus begin telling him to be quiet. He may even begin thinking to himself “this is pointless; why am I shouting out to Jesus? He is too important to pay attention to me.” But Bartimeaus shouts out even louder and more persistently, “Jesus, Lord have mercy!”

Hearing Bartimaeus, Jesus tells the apostles to call him. When he hears that Jesus is calling him, he leaves his cloak behind along with today’s alms, jumps up and runs to Jesus. There is no hesitation, no asking “What does he want?” Bartimaeus hears the call and responds.

Jesus asks Bartimaeus the same question he asked James and John in last week’s Gospel story, “What do you want me to do for you?” James and John asked to be seated at Jesus’ side when He came into His glory. Bartimaeus could have asked for anything. He simply says, “I want to see.” Bartimaeus, who has just met Jesus for the first time and who is blind, already has a deeper insight into who Jesus really is that the apostles who have been walking with Jesus for the past three years. Even in his blindness Bartimaeus has this clarity of spiritual vision.

Now that Bartimaeus can see, he no longer needs someone to lead him around, he can go wherever he wants; and, Jesus tells him “Go your way.” He chooses to follow Jesus.

Like Bartimaeus, we are all beggars, and we can be blind. We can be blind to those in need around us. We can be blind to the path along which Jesus would have us walk. We can be blind to the beggar who stands on the street corner. We turn away so we do not have to acknowledge her presence. We can be blind to the pain of those suffering around us. We can be blind to the fear of an expectant mother. We can be blind to the unemployed. We can be blind to the family who have recently lost a loved one. We can be blind to the soldier returning from a deployment in the Middle East.

Sometimes our blindness is because of our ignorance; sometimes it is intentional. But when we cry out to Jesus, acknowledge him as Lord, and ask for his mercy, he does hear us. Like Bartimeaus, we may be tempted to despair because Jesus delays in answering, but we are advised to be persistent and hopeful in the face of discouragement, and ready to answer without hesitation when He calls us.

Can we cry out with Bartimeaus,

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. I want to see!”

May God bless you,
Deacon Bob

Free at last! Free at last! Praise God Almighty, free at last! So I am, and so are you.

Here is my baptismal certificate, which you could say is my freedom papers. For each of us baptism is our proof that we are slaves no longer. The hold of Satan, who is the personification of sin and death, has been broken. Now we choose to enter into voluntary slavery, a slavery that is the polar opposite of the agony we still would be enduring but for Jesus’ cross and resurrection.

We are to be the slaves of all, Jesus says in our verses from Mark’s gospel. Such slavery takes the form of loving service of all. It is the way of life we accepted in baptism, just as in this passage Jesus defines his life in terms of serving and giving his life as ransom.

What form will your slavery take this week?

With his own blood Jesus purchased us from Satan, our slaveholder, who held all of humanity in chains, whipped us ruthlessly, deprived us of all hope, and took pleasure in our suffering.

Jesus was the suffering servant of whom Isaiah speaks in our first reading, the one who bore the guilt of many by willingly giving his life as an offering for sin, so that the Lord’s will would be accomplished. Of course, what God willed was our deliverance from the power of evil.

Considering all that Jesus has done for us, shouldn’t we define our lives in terms of serving, just as he did?

The slavery we choose is to enter into God’s service. This slavery involves a light burden rather than a heavy one. It is a slavery eagerly embraced by Kateri Tekakwitha, whose canonization is today, and countless other saints, including St. Therese of Lisieux, our parish’s patron saint.

St. Kateri didn’t allow ridicule and other forms of opposition from her family and villagers to turn her from God. At last she ran away from her Mohawk village and began a new life with Christian Indians. She had longed for baptism and finally experienced it. Until her death four years later in 1680, she led a life of intense prayer, having dedicated herself to God.

St. Therese saw that even the most insignificant souls, like her own, can reach heaven because Jesus asks not for great acts but gratitude, a gratitude that proves itself by doing many little things out of love. She sought to live the greatest love in the smallest things of daily life. Like St. Kateri, she placed her trust in God, especially in the last 18 months of her life, when a terrible spiritual darkness enveloped her, even as she endured excruciating suffering from tuberculosis.

These two holy women are great in God’s eyes. So are the countless numbers of parishioners here at St. Therese Church in the generations before us, who made themselves God’s joyful slaves. Yes, they erected our school and church buildings, but far more, they built up one another through prayer and the sacraments. They shared their faith with their children, co-workers, classmates, friends, and strangers, who learned from their example of loving service and from their words about how God had provided for and guided them. Through us this building-up carries on today, 85 years after it began, and we trust that God will help us to sustain it well into the future.

What form will our slavery take this week? Maybe the form of patience with your spouse or child. Maybe a determination to behave more kindly to that trying classmate or that colleague on the job. Maybe a greater effort to make time for prayer. Maybe a resolution to show more tolerance and courtesy toward fellow drivers. Maybe a visit to a lonely elderly person in a nursing home, or lending a hand with a neighbor who’s worn out from caring for a spouse with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Such service tells God we’re taking our emancipation from sin and death seriously. It gives witness to the world that true success isn’t lording it over other people but dying to ourselves, just as we died with Christ in baptism. By so doing, we lead to Jesus those who don’t yet know him so they too will experience emancipation.

Make no mistake: Satan will gleefully return us to a state of wretched slavery, if we allow. We make this foolhardy choice by not holding fast to our confession, in the words of our passage from the Letter to the Hebrews. In other words, we must take our baptism seriously. Through the eucharist and other sacraments and through prayer, let us hold fast to our freedom papers and willingly surrender ourselves to the sweet slavery of following after Jesus.

“Go and make disciples of all nations.”

The word disciple comes from a Latin word that means to learn. So disciples are learners.

In the 1970 film Little Big Man, 121-year-old Jack Crabb describes his amazing life to a historian. It’s the story of a child captured by the Cheyenne Indians who learns to be a warrior. Then as a teen he is recaptured by the U.S. cavalry. As the years come and go he learns the ways of the gunslinger, snake-oil salesman, shopkeeper, muleskinner, fur trapper, town drunk, and finally cavalry scout, in which capacity he is present at the slaughter of Custer and the 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Jack’s gunslinging career comes about when his rediscovers his long-lost sister Caroline as she helps an angry crowd of duped townsfolk to tar and feather him and his partner in the snake-oil business. She pushes him to become a gunslinger. Because Jack has a sure eye and incredible reflexes, he learns to be a skilled gunman.

But then he meets Wild Bill Hickok and witnesses him kill another man. From this he learns there’s a big difference between shooting bottles and killing someone. Jack’s disgusted sister’s response when she finds out he’s given up his gun: “There's ain't nothin' in this world more useless than a gunfighter who can't shoot people.”

Jack Crabb learned a lot of different things in his life, and so do you and I. What the Year of Faith asks of us is to learn more deeply that God has saved us and to share this good news.

Pope Benedict intends the Year of Faith, which began on Thursday, as an opportunity to grow in faith. Thursday was the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council as well as the 20th anniversary of the issuance of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Pope is urging us to experience renewal by studying the council’s documents and the catechism. Learning our faith better deepens our relationship with Jesus. That relationship then drives us to share our faith with others and to serve them in many other ways.

The prophet Zechariah, who was active around 500 B.C., after the Jewish exiles had returned from Babylon, pushed for the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, because it was God’s dwelling place on earth. As we heard in our reading, people from all over the earth will come to Jerusalem to encounter God. The Jewish people’s role is to proclaim the good news of God’s presence so that others will come to find God.

What Zechariah saw as the role of his people is ours, as well, as disciples of Jesus. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, St. Paul tells us in our reading from his Letter to the Romans. He then goes on to point out that if the world is to call on Jesus, it first has to believe in him, and belief comes from hearing about him. That’s where we come in, for others hear about Jesus only when we testify to him in word and deed. Let us never limit faith to a private act, for it must be a choice to stand with the Lord so as to live with him.

Sisters and brothers, we are one with God through baptism and made strong in eucharist so we can go and make disciples of all nations. Borrowing the words of Jack Crabb’s sister Caroline, “There's ain't nothin' in this world more useless than a Christian who won't learn other folks about Jesus.” Let us go forth from here and make ourselves useful.

Marriage is a “holy mystery, a symbol of Christ’s love for his Church,”

and of the intimate relationship God desires to have with each of us.

If I take a few eggs, some milk, some flour, and some cocoa powder and put them out on the table, what do I have? I have eggs, milk, flour, and cocoa together on the table. Now, if I combine them in the proper proportions along with a few other well chosen ingredients, and I bake them at the correct temperature for the appropriate length of time, what we take out of the oven will be something different from what went in. We now have a chocolate cake if I did everything correctly. The ingredients we started with are still there, but they have become more than the were when we started; and we cannot now get the eggs, milk, flour, and cocoa back to the way they were. They have become “intimately bound together.”

When God brings a man and woman together in marriage, the two become something new, a new creation, more than simply two people in partnership. Our scriptures tell us that they “become one flesh.” What a strange phrase, this metaphor “one flesh.” But what if some medical or scientific development would allow us to take two living beings and combine them into one. What if we could take two mice (mice seem to be picked on a lot for such experiments) and somehow merge them into a single new mouse, so that the two mice “become one.” Can we then separate the two again? Can we surgically take the one mouse apart and have two complete mice again? When God joins a woman and man together, they become one flesh, and no person should attempt to separate them.

This is in keeping with the nature of God, in whose image we are created. God is an inseparable Trinity, a “community” or more correctly a unity of three Persons. In the beginning, according to Genesis, God created mankind in God’s image. So, we are by nature meant to live in community, and God says “it is not good for the man (or woman) to be alone.” God begins bringing potential partners to the man, but none of them is suitable until God creates a partner by taking one of the man’s ribs. This woman is a “suitable partner” because she shares something special with the man, she also is made in the image of God. Then God goes even farther. It is not enough that the two are suitable partners, God presides over the first wedding, and “the two of them became one flesh.” God moves them beyond mere partnership to a oneness. That is what makes marriage between a man and woman so very special. It is a relationship unlike any other. It is a relationship that mimics the intimacy of the persons of the Blessed Trinity. It is a relationship whose love can, according to God’s plan, result in the creation of new life. There is no more intimate human relationship than that between husband and wife. That is as close as we come to the intimacy God desires to have with us; and that relationship, since God is eternal, will never end.

Because of God’s love for us, Jesus “for a little while was made lower than the angels.” “God so loved the world that He sent His only Son.” There became a “marriage of mankind with God.” God’s love, incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ, led Christ to the cross for us. And to remind us of his love, he left us a memorial of that sacrifice, which we celebrate here.

What we do here at Mass is a small sharing in the heavenly wedding banquet. Our sharing in Holy Communion is a sharing in the very flesh of Jesus, who is God. Our Communion, then, is a sharing in that intimate union with God for which we long, and which God desires to have with us. In Holy Communion, we are united with Christ in a very intimate way; and, that union with our God also unites us intimately, if spiritually, to one another.

God is calling us, together and individually, here and now to enter into the “Supper of the Lamb,” the heavenly wedding feast, to share in the Mystery of the Eucharist, to receive the Real Presence of Jesus Christ, and so enter more deeply into that intimacy with God foreshadowed by the sacrament of Marriage.

May God bless you,
Deacon Bob

Belonging to Christ is of the utmost importance, and without it we court death.

I don’t know much about farm animals, but the parish I served just before I came to St. Therese was in rural Medina County and gave me some exposure. I learned a bit about alpacas and sheep, because a number of alpaca farms are found there and one of my parishioners owned a flock of sheep. Both alpacas and sheep are prized for their wool. Something else they have in common is their herd instinct.

If you were to buy just one alpaca, you’d find that before long it would die, not because of some physical problem but because it absolutely has to have the company of another alpaca. And if a sheep wanders away from the flock and becomes lost, it too will die. Without the security of the other sheep, it becomes frozen with terror. It will die of hunger or thirst, even though it’s standing in a grassy field with a stream of water a few feet away, because it can’t function when separated from other sheep.

In today’s verses from Mark’s gospel Jesus is speaking to his disciples about how nothing outweighs the importance of belonging to him. It’s far better to do without your hand or foot or eye than to be lost to him. Now Jesus isn’t telling us to actually pluck out our eye or cut off our hand or foot; he’s using exaggeration to make his point.

Our connection to him is our greatest treasure and must never be put at risk, nor are we ever to say or do anything that will jeopardize another person’s connection to him. Apart from him we don’t have life, so cutting ourselves off from him is suicide, and contributing to someone else’s separation from him, by our bad example, for instance, is akin to murder.

Today we celebrate the feast of our patron saint, St. Therese of Lisieux, who knew quite a lot about belonging to Jesus. She died on September 30, 1897, at the age of 24, having lived 9 years as a Carmelite nun in the town of Lisieux in France. Her parents, Louis and Zelie Martin, were beatified four years ago.

Every human being belongs to Jesus, though many people, Christians included, don’t know this or lose sight of it. Therese knew from early on that she belonged to him. Even as a child of 14 she felt a keen concern about others who apparently had cut themselves off from Jesus. At that young age she prayed fervently for a murderer she’d read about in the newspaper, that he would repent of his sins. When she learned that this man asked to kiss the cross just before his execution, she felt sure that her prayers had helped to save him from hell.

As she grew older, Therese came to recognize more and more that her mission was to save souls. Those who didn’t believe were in her prayers often, as she asked God to touch them with the light of faith. She considered herself a “universal sister”, especially to sinners, for she very much knew herself to one like them.

St. Therese is known for her “little way”. This came from her profound awareness of her insignificance before God as well as her acquaintance with her imperfections. Though she dreamed of doing great things for Jesus, like the martyrs and missionaries and renowned saints, she realized, especially when her health began failing on account of tuberculosis, that her destiny was remain in her convent in little Lisieux.

She saw that the smallest souls, like her own, can reach heaven because Jesus asks not for great acts but gratitude, a gratitude that proves itself by doing many little things out of love. She sought to live the greatest love in the smallest things of daily life.

Nothing outweighs belonging to Jesus, and to belong to him was Therese’s deepest desire. Nonetheless, her last months were filled with spiritual darkness. Despite this excruciating feeling of being cut off from heaven, she trusted in God, and her last words were, “Jesus, I love you.”

As Therese knew so well, how fortunate we are to belong to Jesus! May we always seek to strengthen our connection to him by imitating our patroness in showing love in the small things of life. Nourished by eucharist, penance, and the other sacraments that come to us through the Body of Christ, the Church, let us help others to see that Jesus is life itself.


“Let me tell you how it is.”

Wouldn’t it be laughable to imagine Charlie Brown, the Peanuts comic strip character who always strikes out, saying this to Babe Ruth about hitting homeruns?

Yet, “Let me tell you how it is,” are words we mere mortals are in the habit of speaking to God.

Ignatius dreamed of being a soldier and valiantly serving his king. Like many a well-born young man of his time, he did pursue a military life, but while defending a Spanish castle against the French, he was badly injured when a cannon ball struck his leg.

While recuperating the distractions were few. Only two books were at hand, one on the life of Christ and the other on the lives of the saints. Reading and thinking were about all had to fill his days. So Ignatius mused on the fame and glory he would gain for himself and also on winning the heart a particular young noblewoman. But, to his surprise, the accounts of Christ and the saints also appealed to him.

As for Peter, by this time in Mark’s gospel, he has followed Jesus for a good while and loves him deeply. He considers him to be the messiah, the one sent by God to save Israel from its enemies. In the view of Peter and his fellow Jews, the messiah will lead his people to victory, as King David had done centuries earlier. Suffering plays no part in that picture, and Peter is horrified when Jesus announces that he will suffer, die, and rise. Taking Jesus aside, he heatedly argues against the course Jesus sees for himself.

Then there’s Sharon and Bob, who, upon marrying after college, envisioned their life together as one filled with love, three or four kids, a home in a nice neighborhood, and other forms of success. Their dream didn’t include infertility and illness.

Ignatius, Peter, Bob, and Sharon were thinking as humans do, not as God does. God asked them, as God asks all of us, to abandon our own limited dreams and take part in Jesus’ work of saving the world. That’s what it means to take up our cross. Instead of telling God how it is, in regard to the course our life will take, it’s essential that we let God tell us how it is.

During the many months of his recovery, Ignatius came to realize that, as much as he took pleasure in the dreams of gallantry, they left him feeling dissatisfied. On the other hand, with each reading of the lives of the saints, he felt more and more a sense of joy and attraction.

One day it dawned on Ignatius: His God-given destiny was not to be a soldier serving the King of Spain but a soldier serving Christ the King. This was the vocation he pursued. He went on to become a priest, to found the religious order called the Jesuits, and to grow so much into a person who thinks as God does that today we know him as St. Ignatius of Loyola.

We see in Mark’s gospel that Peter loves Jesus and wants no harm to come to him. His limited human wisdom prevents him from seeing that the most dreadful harm comes from substituting our will for God’s. Eventually he will so completely learn to think as God does that because of him many people will come to believe in Jesus as Savior and, like his Lord, he will die on a cross.

With the discovery of their infertility, Sharon and Bob chose to adopt. Then, while their two kids were still too young for school, Sharon was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. A double mastectomy followed, along with chemotherapy and radiation treatment, all of which took a terrible toll on everyone. But their suffering taught them to rely on God and to think as God thinks, which today, as empty-nesters, they keep learning more and more to do.

If we think as humans do, it’s not likely we ever would give our back to be beaten and our face to be struck and spat upon, like the Servant of the Lord in our verses from Isaiah. Rather, we would strike back and spit at anyone who inflicted such abuse on us. In this vein, in John’s gospel it is Peter who, at Jesus’ arrest, draws a sword and slices off the ear of the high priest’s slave.

We come to this Mass to share in eucharist because, without the grace this sacrament provides us, we never will learn to think as God does. Rather, we will carry on with violent words and deeds, with failures to forgive and seek forgiveness, in blindness to how much we are at fault in damaged relationships at home and work, and in willful ignorance of just how sinful and in need of God we are.

Jesus was driven by the desire to do his Father’s will, no matter what it cost him. “Let me tell you how it is” are words he never spoke to his Father. May we let go of our inclination to chart our own course and listen to God, who call on us to take part in Jesus’ work of saving the world.

All of us know the nursery rhyme about Humpty Dumpty. This colossal egg who fell off the wall couldn’t be put back together again by all the king’s horses and all the king’s men. However, what holds true for nursery rhymes doesn’t apply to God, who would have healed Humpty Dumpty.

Though God’s ways are a mystery to us, God never fails us. That doesn’t mean that whatever I pray for, such as winning a huge prize in the lottery, God will grant. It means God makes us whole, like a healed Humpty Dumpty. In what way God would heal a big, broken egg I don’t know. Maybe an egg surgeon would appear who would piece him back together. In such a case, Humpty Dumpty might thereafter walk with a limp and carry a bunch of scars and no longer be able to climb walls. Though he’d never be the same, in a very real way he’d be better, if he were an egg who was aware that God watches over him and loves him.

As we heard in today’s passage from Mark’s gospel, the man afflicted by deafness and a speech impediment was healed by Jesus. The message isn’t that God will make right everything in our lives that is messed up. Rather, Mark is telling us that Jesus will make us whole, though whole in a truly life-giving way, a way that speaks of God’s love and empowers us to share it.

In the gospels every miracle story about Jesus has a spiritual meaning. God sent Jesus into the world to open us up to God, and the message of this miracle story is that God wants all people to hear Jesus so they can speak of what God has done through him. Similarly, in the next chapter, when Jesus gives vision to a blind man, the message is that God wants every human being to see that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and share that truth with others.

These actions reveal to the onlookers that in Jesus the salvation so long-awaited by God’s people is taking place. He already has healed a paralytic and fed thousands of hungry people. Now a deaf man can hear. Soon a blind man will be able to see. These actions fulfill what Isaiah envisioned, as we find in our first reading, and they testify to the truth of God’s fidelity, which today’s psalm extols. The crowd witnessing these deeds would have been quite aware of these biblical passages. The people would have been saying to themselves in awe, “This must be the messiah!”

Knowing this, Jesus commands them to tell no one what he has done. Why? Because they think such miracles sum up the messiah. Not until he dies on the cross and is raised will it be possible for them to see that the messiah wins salvation for the people only through his own suffering. The true miracle is his willingness to give himself totally to God, no matter the cost.

I just heard a story on the radio about a Navy lieutenant, blinded in Afghanistan, who has won two gold medals in swimming at the Paralympic Games. On September 7 last year, a bomb blast robbed Brad Snyder of his vision. One of those gold medals came yesterday, exactly a year after he was wounded.

Brad never will see again, just like a healed Humpty Dumpty never would look the same again. But Brad said that by his victory he has beaten blindness, for it no longer defines who he is. And if it hasn’t happened already, perhaps one day it will, that he will credit his blinding as a graced moment, because it led him to discover the power of God at work in his life, and the depths of his God-given strength, courage, and resourcefulness. Any event, no matter how painful, that leads us to God is a priceless gift.

Let each of us find comfort and reassurance and uplifting in these readings from Isaiah, Psalm 146, and Mark. Take heart from them, you who are undergoing difficult treatment for a serious medical condition, you who have just learned that a loved one is terminally ill, you whose spouse or adult daughter or son is in jail or some other sort of trouble, you who despair of ever finding a decent job, and you who, in the wake of your parents’ divorce, wonder whether your shattered world ever again will be right.

God never fails us but makes us whole, a wholeness that means we know God loves us and opens us up to God through the happenings in our lives, even the terrible ones. That way we will lead others to God, which is the service that truly gives us meaning.

One day George was thinking with some self-satisfaction about his life. As always, his guardian angel, Clarence, was at his side.

George said to himself, “George, you’re doing a good job. You know who the true God is, and you get to church every Sunday. You hardly ever misuse God’s name, and if you do you go to confession. You were good to your parents, you haven’t done physical harm to anybody since you were 12, though you sure wanted to with Old Man Potter, and that time you took a ream of paper from the office, well, you replaced it later and confessed your fault.

You always have been faithful to Mary. As for bearing false witness, you’ve told some little white lies, which you’ve confessed. And though you sometimes envied your brother for doing some of the things you wanted to, all in all you haven’t coveted anything of your neighbors.

Yes, George felt pretty pleased with himself.

Clarence, however, wasn’t so comfortable about George’s self-estimate. Angels can read souls, and what Clarence read in George disturbed him.

Knowing the Bible through and through, he saw that, as James says, pure and undefiled religion is to care for orphans and widows. And as is found in Matthew, things that come from within, from people’s hearts, are the problem, and all those things hurt other people. Things like evil thoughts, malice, greed, arrogance, and folly. And as Psalm 15 points out, walking undisturbed through life means harming no one but rather doing good.

Clarence knew George to be a good man but a man who didn’t go far enough in loving. He put on and took off the law of love like someone puts on and takes off a shirt. It wasn’t carved on his heart.

George never killed Old Man Potter, but he bad-mouthed him plenty and always held onto bitter feelings towards him instead of forgiving him. His mom’s dementia finally got so bad that he really didn’t have much choice but to put her in that nursing home. But he let his business monopolize his life, so mom often got pretty lonely for a visit. In fact, so did Mary, Pete, Janie, Zuzu, and Tommy.

As for Uncle Billy, after their falling out, George turned his back on him. And that shipwreck occurred because, thanks to the building boom after the war, the business became such a success that George got to thinking he always knew best. Uncle Billy disagreed once too much, and that did it.

Then when George threw Zuzu out of the house because her boyfriend got her pregnant at 17, that was Uncle Billy all over again, because he just washed his hands of her. Sort of like ignoring widows and orphans in their affliction. George’s self-satisfaction about his pure religious practice was convenient in what it forgot, like the scribes and Pharisees who were so attentive to external observances while ignoring the requirement to love.

Yes, George kept the Ten Commandments on their surface, but he didn’t let them soak into his soul. Too often loving your neighbor as yourself was more a matter of hearing for George than doing.

Angels are persistent beings and ever-hopeful. Clarence would keep knocking at the door of George’s heart, waiting for him to open.

In one of the Indiana Jones movies, Indiana is searching for the Holy Grail. He has a long, dangerous journey, and when he finally reaches the place where it is hidden, he has to undergo several challenges before getting to the room where the Grail is. He has to know the name of God, and how to spell it. He has to “make a leap of faith” and cross a very narrow invisible bridge. Finally, he enters the room containing the Grail; but, there are hundreds of cups on shelves around the room. There is a guardian knight in the room who tells Indiana and the enemies who have pursued him all the way here that only one of the cups will give life; the others bring death. “Choose wisely,” the knight warns.

“Choose wisely.” With the wise choice comes life, but to choose unwisely brings death.

Joshua has brought the Israelites into the Promised Land. He calls them together and reminds them of how the Lord brought them out of Egypt and across the desert with Moses. Then they must choose—will they serve the Lord, who is truly God, or the other “gods” surrounding them? “Whom will you serve?” Joshua asks. He could have added, “Choose wisely.”

The choice isn’t as simple as it sounds. Just as Indiana Jones has to pick the right cup from the many offered, The people are surrounded by many “gods” vying for their attention. Many of those “gods” can look pretty enticing. It is easy to get distracted from serving the Lord, and join our neighbors in serving some other “god.”

We have become much more sophisticated than the people with Joshua. We know better than to believe in gods like those of the ancient Romans and Greeks like Aphrodite, Bacchus, and Mars, or the Canaanite god Baal. They do not exist.

Maybe they do not exist in the same sense in which the ancient peoples said they do, but as forces that can influence our lives, they are as real as ever. And we are surrounded by them.

Aphrodite was the goddess of “love” (not really love, but lust), and anyone who puts physical love first in their life is serving Aphrodite, the goddess of lust. Bacchus was the god of wine and partying, and anyone who puts alcohol, drugs, and partying first in their life is serving Bacchus, the god of wine. Mars was the god of war, and anyone who allows their anger to influence their actions is serving Mars, the god of anger and violence.

We may not serve what we call gods, but whatever we place at the center of our lives, whether it be pleasure, money, prestige, power, and so on, takes the place of God. Ask yourself how you make your decisions. That will tell you what is really at the center of your life and what “god” you serve.

Jesus presents His disciples, including us, a choice today. “Do you want to leave me?” For the past few weeks we have been hearing Jesus talk about the Bread of Life that God offers us. Jesus has said that He is the Bread of Life, and that those who eat His flesh and drink His blood will have eternal life. It is a “hard saying” because Jesus is not talking about bread that is a symbol of His presence with us. He is talking about bread that actually becomes the Real Presence of Jesus; bread that really becomes His Flesh and wine that becomes His Blood. The Body and Blood of Jesus that we receive in Communion are our nourishment providing the spiritual strength to resist all those other “gods” that surround us, trying to entice us away from the One True God, who offers us eternal life.

Like Indiana Jones, and like the Israelites, we are called to make a choice. It is a choice that comes at us again and again, multiple times each day. Joshua says to the Israelites and to all of us, “Decide today whom you will serve.”

“Choose wisely!”
May God bless you,
Deacon Bob

About wisdom, the 20th-century American humorist Samuel Levenson said, “It's so simple to be wise. Just think of something stupid to say and say the opposite,” while in the view of that great American writer, H. L. Mencken, “No matter how long he lives, no man ever becomes as wise as the average woman of forty-eight.”

Perhaps there’s something to be said for both observations. The Bible writers often pondered wisdom, as we see in our first reading, from the Book of Proverbs. Where is wisdom to be found? In reading learned books? In traveling the world or in dialoguing with philosophers? In mastering the sciences or in imbibing the teachings of the great religions of our day?

No, wisdom doesn’t result from these pursuits. Many a highly-learned person can look back on a life that reveals much more foolishness than wisdom. Countless philosophers have tilted at windmills and added nothing to human progress. Science furnishes us with knowledge, such as the splitting of the atom, but it can’t supply us with wisdom to guide us in using that knowledge for our benefit rather than our self-destruction.

No one was more familiar with the teachings of Judaism than the Pharisees, scribes, and chief priests, yet they played a critical part in crucifying the Son of God. And intimate familiarity with the gospels and dogma didn’t prevent popes, bishops, and priests who lived in centuries past from burning people at the stake on account of their erroneous beliefs, nor does it eliminate more modern forms of witch hunts in today’s Church.

For all who seek to follow Jesus Christ, wisdom comes from imprinting him on their heart and soul. Worldly experience in itself will never equate to wisdom. Therese of Lisieux knew almost nothing of the world, yet we would do far better befriending this lover of God than the worldly prime ministers, presidents, chancellors, kings, emperors, dictators, and industrial and financial magnates who have plunged their peoples into wars and other disasters over the centuries.

The Son of God was entrusted to Mary and Joseph rather than to the royal family of Rome because Mary and Joseph knew and loved God. Wisdom is to know and love God, like the Holy Family. It is to do all we can, despite our sinfulness, to be holy as God is holy.

In today’s verses from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, we find important guidance about wisdom. We must try to understand the will of the Lord, he says, and that certainly is true, for devotion to our own will brings misery. St. Paul continues that we are to sing and play to the Lord in our hearts. In other words, our task is always to focus on pleasing God, instead of worrying about the matters the world counts as important. Finally, he urges us to give thanks to God always and for everything, for to recognize that keeps us humble, ever aware that we depend completely on God. Understanding God’s will, singing to the Lord in our hearts, and always thanking God are all encompassed in prayer. Unless we carve out time for regular prayer, wisdom will never be within our grasp.

Wisdom also derives from learning what truly gives life. Though riches and fame may bring the comforts of life, they certainly do not gain a person true life. Try though a person might to satisfy his or her sexual and other bodily longings, true life will remain elusive. How about having others at your beck and call? That might be your dream, but it is a false one because it leads not to true life but to death.

According to Jesus’ words in our gospel passage, what truly gives life is eating his flesh and drinking his blood. Eucharist gives life because it keeps us close to God. As the very love of the Father, Jesus is wisdom itself.

Wisdom comes from imprinting Jesus on our hearts and souls. Though in this life we never will become fully like him, just as a newly-hatched chick that imprints on a duck never will learn to fly even if it somehow manages to quack, we can do certain things to ensure a deep imprint. By striving to understand God’s will, focusing on pleasing God, giving thanks to God for everything, and seeking out eucharist, the holier we grow and the more we come to resemble Jesus, who is wisdom itself.











A key aspect of the Most Holy Trinity, whose feast we celebrate today, is mission, which says to us that for Christians mission is central.

Mission is costly. This truth is vividly captured in the opening scenes of the movie Saving Private Ryan which depict the landing of American forces on D-Day, June 6, 1944, whose 68th anniversary is this Wednesday. The mission of the Allied forces was to capture the beaches of Normandy and so begin taking Western Europe back from Nazi Germany.

As I served in the Army after my college graduation, it was hammered home to me that accomplishing the mission takes priority over everything. For the soldiers in the landing crafts that morning, this meant those beaches had to be secured, no matter what the cost. And the cost was high. The very realistic images from Saving Private Ryan give the viewers a sense of the carnage inflicted by a rain of bullets and artillery rounds on highly-exposed men.

Mission also is the Church’s priority, as the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s said. According to this council, mission for the Church means this: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.”

The cost to accomplish mission is high for us Christians. Our lives are not about us but about expressing our love for God through the loving service we extend to other people. Such self-denial is very difficult. In fact it would be impossible without the strength God gives us.

How does mission relate to the Holy Trinity? Mission comes from a Latin word meaning “to go forth,” and mission or going forth is what the inner love-life of the Holy Trinity generates, according to an article I read by Fr. John Walsh of the Maryknoll Missioners. When you consider love, there is someone who does the loving, and someone who receives love, and then that exchange of love gives rise to even more love. Isn’t that the case in the love between a husband and a wife, which brings about a baby?

Regarding the Trinity, the Father, who is the first Person of the Trinity, is love itself. The Father gives himself to the second Person of the Trinity, the Son, who gives himself back to the Father. This eternal exchange generates the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, whom the Father and the Son pour upon the universe.

Therefore, the Holy Trinity is all about loving relationship. Our mission as Christians is love because the Trinity is love.

We see the cost of divine love’s mission in Jesus’ death on the cross. The Father, the divine Lover, so loved the world, we hear in John’s gospel, that he gave his only Son, the Beloved, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. Having accomplished his mission of love through his death and resurrection, Jesus returned to his Father. Then Father and Son sent their Holy Spirit to lead the Church in mission, in going forth, to share the Trinity’s love, as we celebrated last week on Pentecost Sunday.

The example of the Church’s martyrs serves as an eloquent reminder of the costly nature of mission. From Stephen, the first martyr, to the Christian shedding his or her blood somewhere in the world at this very moment on account of Jesus’ name, we see that love isn’t cheap.

While our mission to love might never require martyrdom, it still demands a great deal from us. To accomplish this we have come together here to draw strength from eucharist, the meal that manifest the Son’s love for the Father and all that the Father created. Then let us go forth to generate love, like the Trinity, which we do by making our own the joys and the hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted.

For 50 days we have been celebrating the Easter event, Jesus resurrection. We readied ourselves for it through 40 days of fasting, prayer, and works of charity during Lent. Today marks the end of the grand pilgrimage that we the Church began on February 22, Ash Wednesday, as we beseech God to pour out the gifts of the Holy Spirit across the face of the earth.

We human beings need the Spirit’s gifts so that the many divisions that plague us and the creation we are to steward might give way to unity in Christ Jesus. These divisions are the diseased fruit of human sin. Though Jesus vanquished sin by his cross and resurrection, crushing Satan in defeat, we remain susceptible to the Evil One’s seductions.

Consequently, how crucial it is that we listen to the Holy Spirit and cooperate with the Spirit as he guides us in testifying to Jesus. If we serve as God’s instruments in this way, the whole world has the chance to hear the Good News and embrace it, thereby uniting all creation through faith in Jesus.

Those divisions are captured in the Genesis story of the Tower of Babel. After the days of Noah and the devastating flood that God used to punish human sinfulness, that wickedness again multiplied. Human beings sought to build a society apart from God, as symbolized by the construction of a great city with an immense tower in its midst. That this tower would pierce the heavens spoke of sinful human pride, which strives to assert its independence of God’s life-giving will.

At that time all humans spoke the same language, so God put a stop to their effort by imposing different languages on them and scattering them all over the earth. Today’s verses from the Acts of the Apostles present us with the reversal of this divine punishment. The Holy Spirit restores unity, in that as the Spirit-filled disciples spoke of God’s mighty deeds, the Jews of many different tongues who had come to Jerusalem for an important religious feast all could understand them.

The message of this event is that God intends the Spirit-led Church to unite the whole world. How is it to accomplish this? Paul tells us in our passage from his first Letter to the Corinthians. Baptism into the one body of Christ, the Church, erases the differences that tend to divide human beings. The divisions of his day that he names are Jews vs. Gentiles and slaves vs. free persons, probably because they were a source of tension in the early Church.

Jesus came to heal all such divisions. The table fellowship he extended to all, whether Pharisee or tax collector, underscores his purpose to establish a new family free from division and bound together by its goal to love as he loved.

Before his passion, Jesus promised his followers a gift from his Father: the Holy Spirit, who would equip them to bear witness to him. Jesus’ promise was made good on Pentecost, and for each of us baptism was our own little Pentecost. In receiving that sacrament and in confirmation, spiritual gifts were bestowed upon us so that we can carry on Jesus’ work of healing divisions.

While slavery plagues us no more, and the question of Gentiles being accepted into the Church was resolved, it is clear that divisions are not lacking in the Church and society. As we examine our own community and our personal attitudes, we see plenty of cause for concern. Like every human institution, the Church is tainted by sin. The Holy Spirit prods us to tackle them, lest these divisions sabotage our mission to do good and heal all, as Jesus did.

Is there anyone whom we wouldn’t welcome if he or she walked into our church building to worship with us? Some Jewish Christians in the early Church wouldn’t accept Gentiles. The Catholic Church in the U.S. hasn’t always proven accepting of African-Americans, and perhaps that’s a division we should explore at St. Therese. Whether someone is straight or gay doesn’t affect God’s love for that person, but sometimes we Christians aren’t so loving. And there just might be some we worship with who strike one or another of us as odd, backward, or “not our sort” for some reason and whom we avoid. Yet, Jesus purposely associated with a whole range of people who weren’t acceptable to that top group of observant Jews known as the Pharisees.

Throughout our annual sojourn of more than 90 days, we diligently prepared for and then joyfully celebrated our Savior’s resurrection. Our Sunday worship is to remind us of God’s relentless love and in turn fuel the flames of our love. As a result, moved by the Holy Spirit bestowed upon us in baptism and made strong through our sharing in eucharist, we may imitate Jesus in going about the world, doing good and healing all and erasing divisions.

In Jesus we have someone who has gone before us and helps us to follow in his footsteps to our heavenly homeland.

What we celebrate in Jesus’ ascension is something like the immigrant experience in many of our families. A hundred or 200 years ago, an ancestor journeyed to America on his own. He established himself here and then began sending money home to help his relatives. Eventually, he was able to bring them to join him, a few at a time. Immigrants today continue this same pattern.

In keeping with this image, Jesus has gone before us. He showed us the way by his life in this world and sends us help so that we can join him. His way was one of obedience to his Father’s will, even when it meant rejection, abandonment, torment, and death. Similarly, the immigrant experience involves a lot of loss and pain, as our great-great-grandparents could testify in leaving behind all that was familiar to them to begin a new life.

Because our course, like Jesus’, includes challenges that are difficult and frightening, he sends us help. It doesn’t take the form of money or advice about what to expect on the boat that carries us across the ocean, as my great-grandfather Andy Peltonen provided his wife Maria as she came from Finland with their three children to join him in Wisconsin in 1901.

Instead, the help Jesus sends us is far better: the eucharist, without which we wouldn’t be strong enough for the journey, as well as the sacrament of reconciliation and the Holy Spirit, that best of guides who keeps us from getting lost. These aids reach us not through the mail that Great-grandpa Peltonen relied on but thanks to the Church, all of us here, who are traveling companions.

People in the Old World heard from their spouses or children or siblings who traveled to America ahead of them and wrote back about all the opportunities for a better life. They didn’t keep this wonderful news to themselves. No, they shared it with their fellow villagers, which is precisely what we are to do with the gospel message. So we heard in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, which calls on us to serve as Jesus’ witnesses, and in today’s verses from Mark’s gospel, which challenges us to imitate the disciples who went forth and preached everywhere in the wake of Jesus’ ascension.

In Jesus we have someone who has gone before us and helps us to follow in his footsteps to our heavenly homeland. With great hope let us follow him, trusting that he always helps us and making him known to everyone we can.

How many commandments are there? One might answer ten. Ten is a good answer, since we do have the “Ten Commandments” in the Old Testament. It is the number of commandments that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai.

How many commandments are there? A rabbi at the time of Jesus would have answered that there are several hundred commandments to be obeyed if one is faithful to God. The Law is very complicated, and affects every part of our lives.

When the Pharisees ask Jesus which is the most important commandment, (Mt 22:36-40) he responds with “Love the Lord, your God…and love your neighbor as yourself.” These two, He says are the basis of all the other commandments. In our Gospel reading today, Jesus gives us only one commandment: “Love one another.”

This command to love one another is not an easy one. First of all, this love of which Jesus speaks is a self-sacrificing love. We are to love the same way that Jesus loves us, to the point of “laying down one’s life” for another. This love is not an emotion or a feeling. It doesn’t come from our heart, or our head, or any other part of our body or psyche. It is love that comes from God, that “is of God,” as John tells us in the letter from which we read today. It is love that comes to us from God as a grace; and, it is love that motivates.

It is love that moved God to create the world. It is because of His love that the Father “sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.” It is because of love that Jesus, the Son of God, went to the cross for us.

It was Mary’s love for God and for us that moved her to cooperate with God’s plan to send Jesus into the world. So it appropriate that we should love Mary in return, and celebrate her Queenship this weekend.

It is His love that moved Jesus to die and rise from the dead, and leave us the gift of His body and blood in the Eucharist. In love, this weekend, a number of our young brothers and sisters received First Communion.

It is love that moves us to celebrate Mothers’ Day this weekend, expressing our gratitude to all those women who have given lovingly of themselves for us.

It is love that allows a couple to remain married for 70 years, a blessing that we will celebrate here with one of our families this weekend.

It is because we love one another that we will add another young child to our community by means of baptism this weekend. It is our love for one another that calls us together here each weekend. It is because He loves us that Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel reading that we are not servants, but friends. And then he says that He has chosen us and appointed us “to go and bear fruit that will remain.” He did not intend that fruit to be limited only to a select few. In our first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, Cornelius and his family are Gentiles. Up to this point, non-Jews were not allowed to be baptized. But God lets it be known that even Gentiles were to be accepted into the community of believers. When Jesus tells the disciples to love one another, he does not limit that love only to other disciples. In the words of John’s letter: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God.” May the Peace of the Risen Christ be with you this Easter Season.

Hanging out is the favorite activity in the musical Grease, while dropping out is the backdrop for the film Jeremiah Johnson. Both actions have to do with today’s verses from John’s gospel, which press us to ask ourselves, “How much does remaining in Jesus matter to me?”

I just saw the Garfield Heights High School’s production of Grease, which I thought was superb. In this show, as a new school year begins at Rydell High, Sandy is the new kid on the block. Her summer love, Danny, leads the Burger Boys, whose girls are known as the Pink Ladies. Hanging out with his friends is the center of Danny’s life. Will this tough kid choose Sandy, the wholesome girl, over them? Or will Sandy have to transform herself to win acceptance from Danny’s crowd and become his girl?

Hanging out at the burger joint or around Kenicki’s junker of a car or at Rizzo’s house or Roger’s is what these teens live for. On the other hand, dropping out is all that Jeremiah Johnson wants in the movie by that same name. He is a war-weary Mexican War vet, soured on human society, who heads for the Rocky Mountains. He’s heard about mountain men, and that’s the life he wants: the solitary existence of trappers, men at one with nature and free of the evils society brings, such as war.

You could say that hanging out or dropping out was the choice facing the church community to which the evangelist John belonged and for which he wrote. This gospel dates from about 90 A.D., at a time of persecution by the Jews and division within the church. The division involved the nature of Jesus as Son of God and as a man and what being a Christian meant.

For John, to remain in Jesus—to hang out with him—meant staying united with the Christian community, which had received the Spirit of Jesus, and obeying his commandments. Only by so doing was it possible to bear fruit and thus glorify God. Some dropped out because of fear of persecution, and even worse, others dropped out because their view of Jesus and how to follow him had evolved into one sharply at odds with the rest of the church’s.

This choice between hanging out and dropping out remains very real today for us Christians. John wants to know, “How much does remaining in Jesus matter to me?”

People drop out for a variety of reasons. Perhaps indifference is the chief one, because it seems that most Christians who stop practicing their faith don’t do so purposely. Rather, they gradually get out of the habit. And part of that could be “Christian fatigue”.

The Christian way of life is demanding, and “Christian fatigue” can set in. You want a break from sacrificing and forgiving, praying and worshiping. You’re tired of bearing fruit day after day.

However, we are like certain fish that can never float motionless because the swimming is what pushes the water through their gills and thus gives them oxygen. If we drop out, we sever our connection with the Body of Christ that unites us to Jesus and nourishes us so we can persevere in sacrificing and forgiving and loving as Jesus did. This leads to spiritual suffocation.

Remaining in Jesus is the same thing as hanging out with him, and it means taking part in the life of the Church. It’s what you do when you make time for prayer each day and teach your kids and grandkids to pray and share your faith with them in other ways. It’s what our Women Growing in Faith group is about when it meets each month to support its members in living as Christians. It’s what you do when you bite your tongue instead of responding sharply in kind to your spouse’s nasty remark and when you resolve to be patient and accepting of a co-worker whom you find annoying.

Remaining in Jesus is the simple, everyday things of Christian living. It’s what we’re doing right now. It’s our sharing Jesus with the world when we go forth from here.

May each of us always choose to hang out with Jesus through his Body, the Church, and ever reject the temptation to drop out.

There is only one Good Shepherd. We have to make sure we follow him and him alone, for only he will lay down his life for us.

In the film Wall Street, Bud Fox, played by Charlie Sheen, is a young stockbroker who desperately wants to get to the top. He manages to do so when he connects with Gordon Gekko, a ruthless corporate raider portrayed by Michael Douglas. “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good,” Gekko declares to his disciples. Blindly embracing this immoral philosophy, Bud Fox becomes rich and admired by providing Gekko with inside information on stock trades.

Time passes, and the young man learns that his misdeeds have brought Gekko to the point where he will buy and dismantle the airline that employs his dad, Carl Fox, a machinist and the president of the local union, played by Martin Sheen. Bud has to choose between the way of life he has built and his father, the exact opposite of Gordon Gekko.

Admitting to himself the evil he has done, he engineers Gekko’s downfall, first costing his mentor much money by thwarting his airline scheme and then delivering to the authorities a taped conversation in which Gekko incriminates himself. The film ends with Bud heading into court for his own trial, which will land him in prison for insider trading.

In Wall Street, Bud sells his soul to the devil. Gordon Gekko symbolizes the hired hands of our gospel passage, who are false, who don’t care about the sheep and lead them to death rather than life. We make a foolish and dangerous choice if we listen to their voice, as Bud’s example shows.

As sheep recognize their shepherd’s voice and follow it alone, how essential it is that we know God’s voice. That happens because we become very familiar with it through prayer, the Scriptures, and the sacraments. Then we need not fear that we will be led astray by a false shepherd.

The Gordon Gekkos who proclaim, “Greed is good,” and those who insist sex is about self-gratification not love for your spouse and openness to new life, and the voices that encourage us to think that “my life is about me,” and all who prescribe violence as an acceptable tactic in human affairs are dealers in death not life. Whether they realize it or not, they number among those who reject Jesus, the stone which has become the cornerstone. Pull out the cornerstone and the whole structure weakens and falls.

Let us heed the Good Shepherd’s voice. In so doing we strengthen the Church, the Body of Christ, whose cornerstone is Jesus. He strengthens us, particularly through eucharist, to resist the voice of the false shepherds, a voice that appeals to our inclination to serve ourselves rather than others.

Eucharist reminds us that we are children of God not of the world, on the way to becoming what is beyond our imagining. Let us allow nothing to lure us from this path. Let us permit no false voice to persuade us to cast off our status as God’s children. By heeding the Good Shepherd’s voice, which resounds through the Church, and encouraging others to join us, one day we shall be joined to the Good Shepherd for eternity.

Acting as a witness is something most of us are acquainted with. Not necessarily from personal experience, by being called to testify at a trial, but from watching programs on TV like “Law and Order.”

A witness has the responsibility to speak the truth. That sounds straight-forward enough, but it isn’t necessarily so simple. There have been plenty of stories in the news about people who have been wrongly convicted on the basis of eye-witness testimony that was erroneous. Studies have shown that witnesses, without intending to do so, not infrequently identify someone as the perpetrator of a crime who, as it turns out, wasn’t involved at all.

Nor is it unknown for witnesses lie, to protect themselves or someone else or for another reason.

In the end, a person who is called to give testimony as a witness has to decide for himself of herself what truly took place and whether or not to speak the truth.

Serving as a witness is the job of each person here. That’s what St. Luke points out in our gospel reading and in today’s passage from the Acts of the Apostles, which he wrote as the sequel to his gospel. In the gospel, after opening the minds of his disciples to understand the Scriptures, the risen Jesus calls on them to act as witnesses to his death and resurrection and preach repentance. Peter, in our verses from Acts, identifies himself, the other disciples, and us too, as witnesses to the Lord’s death and resurrection.

Every day we act as witnesses, in our every word and deed. Let us make sure we testify truthfully to Jesus. This demands that we pattern ourselves on him, because to do otherwise is to bear false witness about the person he was.

Jesus’ way was to lead others to his Father, to show his Father’s love and compassion by serving the poor, to forgive and heal, and to spend himself completely out of love for his Father.

Baptism commits us to follow the same path. It’s essential that we strive always to stick to that path, knowing that ignoring God, turning a blind eye to others’ suffering, seeking vengeance, and pursuing selfish interests is to lie about the person he was. That’s because baptism identifies us with Christ, and any failure to imitate him testifies falsely to what his life was all about.

As people baptized into his death and resurrection, we are as close to him as Peter and the other Apostles ever were. At Mass he shares his body and blood with us just as he did with them at the Last Supper. Confirmation empowers us through the Holy Spirit to speak and act boldly in service of God.

God energizes and guides us to do this witnessing through the Body of Christ, the Church, which is far more than priests and bishops. No, most of all the Church is you, those who come together Sunday after Sunday in this worship space and others to gather around the person of Christ. Because bearing witness is hard, we need this community of faith that we are, to find support for our mission, a mission we can’t do alone.

The encouragement we find here as we pray and share together makes it possible for us to act as witnesses to Jesus at home, at work, at school, as our patience is tried, or someone hurts us with a cutting remark, or we feel that if just one more thing goes wrong we’ll explode.

Gathering around Christ continues outside of Mass, too, as we support one another in acting as witnesses through the entire gamut of parish activities. I urge you to check out the Ministry Fair after Mass. It offers you an opportunity to get involved with passing on the faith as a teacher in the PSR program, or assisting the needy through the St. Vincent de Paul Society, or comforting a lonely homebound person by taking Communion to her, or drawing teens to Jesus through the youth ministry.

Faithful witnesses. That’s what all of us are to be, and it’s a lot more than what we see on “Law and Order.” We do it every day and moment of our lives, to share the truth about Jesus Christ.

Jesus is Risen from the dead! Alleluia! Alleluia!!

Jesus is indeed risen. Unlike the first disciples, we can see that as simply an historical fact. We can easily distance ourselves from the event. But for the first disciples, it was different. The Resurrection was not what people were expecting it to be. It was much more.

If we back up to earlier in the gospels, to when Jesus raised Lazarus from the tomb, we find that some people did believe in a resurrection of the dead. But they expected it to come at the end of time, not in the here and now.

What would your reaction be if I was to tell you that the Cleveland Browns are going to win the next Super Bowl? Something along the lines of “Right; do you have a bridge to sell me as well?” or “I’ll believe that when I see it.” That must have been the disciples’ reaction when the women returned from the tomb on Easter morning with the news that they had seen Jesus, that He is alive, and spoke to them. “Right, you ladies need to sit down and get a grip on reality.”

We left off in the Gospel last Sunday right after Peter and John have seen the empty tomb. They have not yet seen Jesus, do not know what to make of His missing body, and we are told “They did not yet understand the Scripture that He had to rise from the dead.” (Jn 20:9) —because they had not yet seen Him.

Today, we take up the story on the evening of the Resurrection. The disciples are together behind locked doors—together to share their grief and disappointment, locked doors because they are afraid. Jesus, in whom they had put their hope, their trust, is dead. Not only that, but his body is missing from the tomb. And now, some of the women are telling them that Jesus is alive. Obviously they are hysterical, experiencing some kind of hallucination.

Then, suddenly, someone else is in the room with them. “Peace be with you” he says, just as Jesus was accustomed to do. How can it be Jesus? We saw him die, saw him buried. He shows them His pierced hands and feet and side. He breathes the Holy Spirit into them, and gives them a mission. But someone was missing. Where is Thomas? He should be here.

A week later, they are still together behind locked doors. It is as if nothing has changed. They have seen the Risen Jesus, have received the Spirit, and are still keeping the doors locked. This time Thomas is present. They have told him about Jesus, but he doesn’t believe them. It would be like telling us that the Browns have won the Super Bowl. I’ll believe it when I see it.

It is not until Thomas sees Jesus, and as soon as Thomas sees Jesus, that he believes. Thomas immediately recognizes Jesus as “My Lord and My God!” There is no hesitation on Thomas’s part. But Thomas had to be there, with the other disciples. And he would not have been there if they had not told him about Jesus. John tells us at the end of today’s gospel that he has written these things “that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah…and have life in His name.” (Jn 20:31) Further, Jesus declares “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” (Jn 20:29) But St. Paul asks “how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to tell them?” (Rom 10:14)

We are all, by our baptism, members of the one Body of Christ, children of God the Father, brothers and sisters in Christ. We have all received the same Holy Spirit whom Jesus breathed into the disciples on that Easter evening. And when Jesus breathed the Spirit into the disciples, it was not so they could remain secluded behind locked doors. They were to go out and make disciples of all nations. (Mt 28:19)

We gather here every Sunday (or Saturday evening) to celebrate, to pray together, to experience the Real Presence of the Risen Jesus in the Eucharist. But where is Thomas? Where are our absent brothers and sisters? I am sure you were here last weekend. Did you see someone whom you have not seen in quite a while? Did you greet them, make them feel welcome? Who do you know that should be here with us to experience the Risen Christ in our midst? Is there a neighbor who would be here, but can no longer walk or drive here; a family member who no longer comes because they do not feel welcome; or who does not think himself or herself worthy? Invite them! Better still, bring them!

As St. Paul says, how will they believe if no one tells them? How will they know to come to the banquet unless someone invites them?

May the Peace of the Risen Christ be with you this Easter Season

-04/08/12 - Easter Sunday
“Death, you lose!”

That’s what Easter is about, for in Jesus’ resurrection death was vanquished by God’s love.

When Jesus breathed his last on the cross that Friday afternoon, it certainly appeared that death had won, that evil had triumphed.

That seemed to be what was in store for Holly Koester.

In 1990 she was a captain in the U.S. Army, in which she had served for nine years. With the outbreak of Desert Storm, she was called onto the post where she was stationed. While driving there she hit an obstruction, causing her car to roll over. When she came to, she found that she couldn’t move her legs, because she had injured her spinal cord.

The career she so enjoyed was suddenly over, and it seemed that evil had won. However, she transformed defeat into victory, as we always will when we cooperate with God. About a year after her accident, Holly learned about the National Veterans Wheelchair Games. She has participated in them ever since. Recently she became the first person to compete in marathons in all 50 states and has won many medals.

Today Holly teaches in Walton Hills and continues to compete in wheelchair marathons.

The accident that shattered Holly Koester’s life actually led to victory. That’s the way God works, as Jesus’ crucifixion makes clear. Defeat was transformed into victory.

And that isn’t the exception; it’s the rule, if we allow God to work in our lives. No tragic event can overcome us if we trust in God, as Jesus did when, in Luke’s gospel, he cried out just before he died, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Death can win only if we don’t believe.

So, brothers and sisters, when pain and loss and failure threaten us, let us call to mind that God raised his Son from the dead. Because the Father loves us, his adopted children, no less than Jesus himself, we can rest assured that God’s power will prevail in our lives.

Is it the death of a loved one that afflicts you? Or years of addiction? Or the terrible burden of sexual abuse? Or a failed career? No matter what evil besets us, through our cooperation with God’s grace, God will overcome it, impossible though this may seem.

“Death, you lose!” That’s the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection. Because life’s hardships can cause us to forget this and despair, we come here Sunday after Sunday. Restored by God’s word and the eucharist, with hope refreshed we will go forth from Mass to bear witness to our risen Savior, as in baptism we were commissioned to do.

-04/01/12 - Palm Sunday
Some members of my family are really into the cable TV program The Walking Dead. In it the human race faces extermination at the hands of zombies, dead humans who come back to life and feed on the living.

It’s a scary story. The small band of survivors constantly finds itself fleeing a horrible foe, hoping to avoid a dreadful death and, even worse, a nightmarish form of life after death. I’m glad it’s fiction! No beams of light shine through the darkness of that world.

We have begun Holy Week, in which the awful darkness of the real world plays a major role. In the Passion of Jesus in Mark’s gospel, the darkness bred by Satan has infected the chief priests, scribes, and elders, along with Judas, Pilate, the soldiers, and the revolutionaries crucified with Jesus. Even Peter, James, and John are influenced, as well as the rest of Twelve, as all abandon Jesus at his arrest.

However, the darkness that threatens to entomb the world cannot prevail. Maybe it will in the universe of zombies, but not in the universe created by God. Our account today ends with Jesus’ death and burial, but the happy ending we want for every story is announced by Jesus at the Last Supper, when he tells his friends, “After I have been raised up, I shall go before you to Galilee.”

We easily identify with the darkness, pain, fear, suffering, and despair that we find in The Walking Dead and programs like it. These are inescapable facts of human life. They were realities that Jesus himself endured. But they will never form the end of the story, for Jesus was raised up and has gone before us, as we will experience when we share in his Body and Blood in a short while.

-03/25/12 - Lent 5
Love and hate are words we usually are clear about.

If I tell you, “I love my dog,” you know that I’m saying I value my dog and have a deep attachment to it. If I tell you, “I hate my niece’s dog,” you gather that I detest the creature, perhaps because it bit me once or it likes to water my leg or never stops yapping.

Jesus warns us in today’s reading from John’s gospel that if we want eternal life, we are not to love our lives in this world but hate them. This statement might well leave a person very puzzled.

Is he requiring us to loathe everything about our lives: climbing trees, enjoying a beautiful sunset, the boundless joy you feel as you first hold your new-born, getting a hole in one, winning the school’s spelling bee?

Considering that, according to the Book of Genesis, God pronounced all God created to be “very good,” that’s hardly likely. No, life in this world is a tremendous gift from God, and to detest it would offend God.

What Jesus wants from us is to correctly value life in this world, in comparison to our eternal relationship with God.

If we rate any aspect of earthly life as of greater importance than serving God, then we are fools. This is Jesus’ message, and he imparts it in the context of teaching about the death he will accept to save all the world from sin.

Jesus surely didn’t savor the prospect of death, any more than you or I would. But he knew that his death would produce much fruit, like a grain of wheat that is planted in the ground rather than safeguarded like an autumn leaf beneath wax paper. Similarly, if we die to ourselves instead of pursuing selfish lives, we also produce much fruit.

So, what does it look like to preserve your earthly life for eternal life? For someone whose spouse and marriage now seem dull and who itches for something more, it means calling to mind that you married this person for better and for worse. It means trusting that this difficult period will pass and that God will help you to persevere.

For parents, preserving your earthly life for eternal life takes the form of climbing out of bed at 3 a.m. to comfort your frightened toddler and making do with the old car for another year to save money for college tuition. It also means trusting in God as you grapple with your 18-year-old’s self-destructive behavior, fret over your aging parent’s deteriorating physical and mental state, and struggle to maintain your balance at work when lay-offs are taking place.

For a young person, preserving your earthly life for eternal life involves forgiving your brother for making fun of you, befriending a classmate whom others ignore, saying no to cheating on an assignment, and taking the risk of rejection for refusing to dishonor your body sexually or through substance abuse.

Jesus accepted death on a cross so that the world would be redeemed. We celebrate his death and resurrection in eucharist and make them real to the world by dying to ourselves at home, school, work, and when we are out and about. Such self-denial is what our gospel means when it calls on us to hate our lives in this world. By this means we do God’s will and preserve our earthly lives for eternal life.

-03/18/12 - Lent 4

-03/11/12 - Lent 3
Have you ever been to a movie theater? I’m sure most of us have. Think about that event. First, you stop to buy a ticket (or to pick it up if you purchased it early). We enter the inner doors and hand the ticket to an usher who tells us which theater we are assigned to. And there is the smell of popcorn. Vendors want us to purchase something to eat and to drink. We need to stop and buy something to enjoy during the movie. So we stand in line, waiting; hoping to complete our purchase before the movie starts.

It is all part of the experience. Even watching a movie at home, some of us want that popcorn. Without that, the experience is not complete. But it is not about the food and drink. The important part of the experience is the movie. And if we are with someone else, the experience includes that other person.

In our scripture readings today, there are a number of events taking place. The Israelites are wandering in the desert. They are hungry and thirsty; and, sometimes that hunger and thirst gets the better of them. God has to remind them, and us, that God saved them from slavery in Egypt. In the chapters of Exodus up to Chapter 20, the people are wandering, sometimes rejoicing, sometimes grumbling. “God freed us from slavery in Egypt, but I’m tired of living in a tent, back there I had a real bed.” “God is giving us manna, but I’m tired of these corn flakes.” “God is giving us quail, but I’d rather have steak.” Sometimes they remember what God has done, and sometimes they just want more. It is only in chapter 20, after God has already freed and fed the people that they are given the Commandments. Up to this point, the only thing God has required of the people is that they remember what God has done for them and be grateful. And what are those Commandments about? Relationships. The Commandments give the people wisdom about how to live in relationship to one another and to God. What God wants is to have a close relationship with the people. But their focus is on the food and drink, and on the commandments. They/We become distracted from the relationship. The focus turns to the popcorn rather than the movie; to what St. Paul calls “signs” of God presence and power.

St. Paul talks about signs and wisdom. For the Israelites in the desert, the signs were the parting of the Red Sea, smoke and fire, the Manna, water flowing from rocks, even the Commandments. Some of the people who followed Jesus, what was important were the healings and the miracles that he performed; more signs. But for the disciples after his Crucifixion, there was the resurrection. Finally, St. Paul says that for us the only necessary sign is “Christ crucified” which proves God’s love for us. And God’s love for us is the point of all the “signs.”

In Exodus, when the Israelites ask for water, they ask “Is the Lord in our midst or not?” God responds, immediately before issuing the Commandments that “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” God has been with them all this time.

When Jesus throws the money-changers out of the Temple precinct, it is because they have been cheating the poor, and they are forgetting that it is worship of God that is central, not making a profit by selling animals for sacrifice. Again, the focus is to be on the relationship with God and with one another. Jesus does not condemn the sacrifices, or worship in the Temple, or even the selling of animals for sacrifice; it is the way business is being carried that he condemns. He is concerned about the personal relationships that are being disregarded.

When Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), he points out that she has had five husbands and is not married to the man with whom she is living. Obviously she is looking for something that has been eluding her (like the Israelites wandering in the desert, not knowing where they are going); and Jesus leads their discussion around to worship of God, because a relationship with God (i.e., worship) is what she really needs. Jesus points out to her (and us) that true worship, a true relationship with God, happens not on the top of a mountain or in a particular Temple, but in our heart. True worshipers meet God in the Spirit. Note that Jesus again does not condemn Temple worship, but simply points out that it is what is in the worshiper’s heart that is of utmost importance.

Returning to the Exodus story, God delivers the Israelites from Egypt, saves them from slavery, leads them through the Red Sea, feeds them and gives them water before asking them to do anything other than remember what God has done for them. God extended the invitation to a relationship.

St. Paul reminds us that “Christ, while we were still helpless, died…” and that “God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Like the Israelites, we sometimes find ourselves wandering in a desert; but God provides for our needs and continues leading us toward our Promised Land. Like the Samaritan woman at the well, we sometimes find that we have committed ourselves to one thing or another, “searching for love in all the wrong places,” as the old song goes; but Jesus reminds us that he can give us Living Water that will sustain us eternally.

God is calling out to each of us to come closer, to experience God’s love in new ways, to experience new signs if that is what it takes; sometimes we are the ones asked to be a sign of God’s love. God is reaching out to each of us, and the question becomes, “How will I respond?” Will I focus on the signs, and look for more, or will I accept God’s offer of Living Water, and an everlasting relationship of love?

Will I focus on the movie, or stay in the lobby with the popcorn and a soft drink?

May God Bless You this Lent,
Deacon Bob

-03/04/12 - Lent 2

-02/26/12 - Lent 1
God asks difficult things of us but unfailingly provides for us.

My college roommate and his wife have four sons. Their second son, Tim, always has been the adventurous sort, as he demonstrated when, after graduating from OSU, still not knowing what to do with himself, he decided to enlist in the Army. However, as a precondition of enlistment, he insisted that he be permitted to try out for the Rangers.

The Rangers are the crème de la crème of the Army. Superbly trained, they often operate behind enemy lines. To become a Ranger you have to complete an extremely demanding two-month course. It puts your body, mind, and all your military skills to the test, to gauge your response in tense situations as you endure day after day of exhausting training in the swamps of Florida, with scant sleep and little time even to eat inadequate meals.

There is a very high failure rate at Ranger School, but Tim passed. Having trained him well to handle the rigors and dangers of armed conflict, the Army now has put him in harm’s way as he serves in Afghanistan.

In our passage today from chapter one of Mark’s gospel, Jesus has been driven out into the desert by the Holy Spirit, having only just experienced the descent of the Spirit upon him at his baptism in the Jordan River. Among the wild beast in the desert, he does battle with Satan, fighting off 40 days of temptations that he serve himself rather than his Father.

The Army has asked something very difficult of Tim, who faces great dangers in Afghanistan, but the Army has prepared him well and placed him among other highly-trained soldiers. In taking on Satan, Jesus, too, finds himself in the most challenging of circumstances. However, his Father has provided him with all he needs in bestowing the Spirit upon him.

What is Mark getting at by using this setting of conflict in the desert? He’s telling us that conflict with evil is an inescapable part of our job as Christians and that we will succeed because God has given us the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ mission from God is to conquer Satan. A reading of Mark’s gospel shows that Jesus repeatedly crosses swords with the Evil One, besting him at every turn. With Jesus’ crucifixion, it appears that Satan emerges victorious, but the Lord’s resurrection proves otherwise, completely vanquishing the Enemy.

Sisters and brothers, God asks difficult things of us but unfailingly provides for us. Though threatened by Satan’s spiritual hostility as well as natural forces, represented by the hostile terrain of the desert and the wild creatures that live there, Jesus succeeds. His Father has equipped him with the Holy Spirit and provides for him through the angels. God likewise sees to it that we are ready for conflict.

As Jesus succeeded against Satan’s temptations, we too will succeed. Baptism has furnished us with the power of the Holy Spirit, and the spiritual nourishment we receive in eucharist allows us to defeat evil.

What might that evil look like? Perhaps it’s the addiction that has you by the throat. Or a sense of despair brought on by the loss of your spouse after 50 years together. Or another person has harmed you and you find yourself nursing your resentment instead of forgiving. Or you know your mom or child or co-worker or classmate is struggling and needs your time and attention, but you feel like you’ve done enough. Or all the problems in the world look so formidable that you’re tempted to give up hope and close yourself off from it all.

After 40 days of contending with Satan, Jesus probably felt the same way. As he trusted in his Father, so may we, and like him let us give our all in serving the Father.


Toward the end of World War II, some Allied troops entered a town that had been recently liberated from the Nazis. Part of this group’s mission in each town that they entered was to help clear the rubble, begin rebuilding, and offer whatever assistance was needed by the townspeople. In this particular town, when they reached the town square, there was a statue of Jesus still standing in front of the church. It had survived the artillery bombardment, but the hands had been broken off and lost. On the ground, leaning against the statue, someone had placed a makeshift sign that read, “The only hands I have are yours.”

We hear in today’s Gospel story that Jesus “stretches out his hand” to touch and heal a leper. But today, our hands are the only ones Jesus has. By our baptism, we are joined to the Body of Christ. Our baptismal call is to be the feet that carry Christ to the world, and the hands of Christ to continue his work, and His lips to deliver His message. In everything we do, St. Paul tells us in today’s second reading, we are to imitate Christ in glorifying God.

When Jesus meets someone who needs help, like this leper, Jesus looks at him compassionately, and helps that person. You and I are not likely to encounter someone suffering from leprosy, nor are we all likely to heal as Jesus does. But we are called to live with that same kind of compassion; a life of loving service. Jesus, we are told “stretched our his hand.” It is not an easy, comfortable reaching; it takes an effort like stretching out to reach something on the top shelf of the kitchen cabinet. We are asked to stretch a little bit, sometimes quite a bit out of love for our neighbor in need. But we are always called to be the hands of Jesus.

For that leper in the gospel, just as painful as the disease itself, possibly even more painful, was the fact that he was banished to live outside the town. He suffered the psychological pain of being separated from human companionship except what he could find among other lepers. He suffered the spiritual pain of being called unclean, and being required to call himself unclean. That kind of leprosy does exist in our world, in our neighborhood, possibly in your own family. As members of the Body of Christ, as His hands, we are called to reach out to them and offer whatever help we can.

As individuals we cannot help everyone. There are many “lepers” whom you and I cannot reach on our own. Those “lepers” include: unwed mothers; abused women; alcohol and drug dependent men, women, and children; men, women, and children in need of psychological or emotional help. You and I cannot personally reach out to many of them. We can, however, support other parts of the Body of Christ to which we are joined. One way of doing that is by supporting Catholic Charities.

Let me give you one example of the assistance Catholic Charities gives that is close to home for many of us. Did you know that many of our hospital chaplains are supported by Catholic Charities funding? Without Catholic Charities, we might not have chaplains in our hospitals. These are men who, imitating Christ’s love and compassion, reach out to hospital patients, some with highly contagious diseases, to be the hands of Jesus.

Next week we will begin our Catholic Charities campaign. Remember that by baptism we are all joined to the Body of Christ, we are called to reach out to one another. This is one way that you can extend your reach, that you can stretch out Christ’s hand in love. Remember that we are the only hands Christ has.

The greatest gift we can give another person is to bear witness to Jesus Christ.

Fr. Maximilian Kolbe is an example of this. The Nazis imprisoned him in the concentration camp in Auschwitz in 1941 due to his total opposition to the evil they personified. He had loudly spoken out against them after their 1939 invasion of his country, Poland, using as his instrument the newspaper he had been publishing to encourage the practice of the faith. In his Franciscan monastery, he then had shielded Jews and other enemies of the Nazi state. As a prisoner, he, like all the other inmates, was inhumanly overworked, underfed, and beaten.

Wasn’t Fr. Kolbe completely helpless? What did he have to offer the men around him, from whom everything had been taken, as it had been from him? Wasn’t all the power in the hands of their cruel persecutors, who knew them only by the numbers tattooed on their arms and viewed by them as subhuman?

Though he had no bread to satisfy their empty bellies, no medicine for their diseases, and no blankets to ward off the cold, he fed and nursed and warmed them with the love, hope, and faith that had grown strong in him from the day of his birth 47 years before. Fr. Kolbe secretly celebrated the Mass, using bread and wine he managed to smuggle in. He heard confessions.

He soothed their fear and reminded them that God was with them, just as God never abandoned Jesus, all appearances to the contrary, as he hung from the cross. He taught that they must hold on to their humanity by taking care of each other and resisting the temptation, born of desperation, to prey on one another.

And then his final gift to these brothers of his was to die for them. A prisoner had escaped, and the Nazis made good on their threat that for every person who got away, ten would be executed. One of those selected for death was young and strong, Sgt. Francis Gajowniczek, a Polish soldier with a wife and children. Fr. Kolbe volunteered to take his place, pointing out that he himself was old and weak. The Nazis accepted the offer.

They were sentenced to death by starvation, and during the ensuing two weeks, Fr. Kolbe ministered to them through prayer and by speaking of trust in God’s mercy and the hope for eternal life. One of the last still alive, he finally was dispatched by an injection of poison. The Church canonized him in 1982, and present in the crowd that day at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome was Francis Gajowniczek, whose life he had saved.

The greatest gift we can give another person is to bear witness to Jesus Christ. That is what Fr. Kolbe did in Auschwitz, and surely many of the men whom he touched found their trust in God, their hope, and their love rekindled.

St. Paul says in today’s passage from his first Letter to the Corinthians that he has no choice but to preach the gospel. Such preaching means much more than speaking about one’s belief in Jesus as Savior. It also involves putting on Christ and doing what he did. Fr. Kolbe did this, completely bereft though he was of all material blessings. In his selfless love he, like Paul, was the embodiment of Jesus. Every person here is just as capable of this, because the power of the Holy Spirit throbs within us, thanks to baptism, a power that is fed by Christ’s Body and Blood.

We have encountered Jesus, no less than Fr. Kolbe did, and as it changed him it changes us. Otherwise, he couldn’t have revived hope in his fellow prisoners.

Perhaps you might wonder about your encounter with Jesus and feel there’s been no change in you. Then turn to God in prayer and ask God to open your heart to his Son. Beseech God to help you cooperate with the Holy Spirit. Trust me when I say that God will not ignore such a prayer! Day in and day out, keep on praying in this vein, and with that prayer include reading the gospels and going to Mass. Then, little by little, you will notice ways that God is inviting you to share your faith by your self giving, and then follow God’s lead.

As Jesus’ disciples, we have so much to give, even when we scarcely have two nickels to rub together. We are no more helpless than Fr. Kolbe was as an inmate in a concentration camp, for we have the message of Jesus to share, like Paul and like Maximilian Kolbe. Let us share that message through our efforts to serve.

What makes you tick?

If someone asks you that, you try to explain what’s important to you in life. Maybe it’s your passion for music. In that case, no matter what words you use, your actions are what really give testimony, such as all the talent shows in which you played your saxophone, and your participation in the school band, and your many evenings in local jazz clubs.

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., burned within to do the work of Jesus, most especially for the downtrodden, like his fellow African-Americans who were denied their civil rights. He taught about the righteousness of their cause and insisted they must gain their goal by nonviolence. Then he gave life to his words by leading nonviolent protests, enduring beatings without retaliating, and going to jail on behalf of his struggle for freedom.

People knew what made Martin Luther King, Jr., tick because the suffering he endured, including his assassination, gave life to the beliefs he expressed.

In our verses today from Mark’s gospel, Jesus teaches, though we aren’t told what he taught. Maybe it was about God’s care for the people and God’s mercy, since Jesus came to draw them back to God. Whatever he said, it impressed his listeners more than the words of the scribes, the experts on the Scriptures. Following up on the teaching, Jesus cast an unclean spirit from a man. Now they really were paying attention.

The comparison between Jesus and the scribes suggests that no deeds gave life to the scribes’ words.

Chicago’s Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who died in 1996, illustrates someone whose actions gave life to his words. After being appointed to Chicago, Bernardin was accused by a former seminarian from Cincinnati, where Bernardin had served as archbishop, of having sexually abused him. This charge received a great deal of media coverage, until the accuser retracted his words. Bernardin, who had steadfastly maintained his innocence, gave life to the words of love and forgiveness he had taught throughout his priesthood, by meeting with this man who had done him such harm and reconciling with him.

What makes us Christians tick is our love for God. As in the cases of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, may this be clear in our words and even clearer in our deeds that give life to those words. This will happen as long as we stick close to God through prayer and the sacraments, especially the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ that we soon will receive.

“This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel,” Jesus proclaims in our reading from Mark’s gospel.

All of us can relate to the notion of fulfillment. Twelve-year-old Matt earns the black belt in Tae Kwan Do, culminating six years of intense effort. Julia graduates from high school and goes off to college and dorm living, at last fulfilling her dream of probing new horizons on her own. The Brunovskies finally go on that trip to the Czech Republic, visiting distant relatives and enjoy themselves more than they thought possible.

The fulfillment Jesus proclaimed was like these examples but so much more. What was being fulfilled was God’s ages-old promise to save God’s people from their sinfulness. This was taking place through Jesus, the very face of God, whose presence in the world manifested that something totally new was afoot. Rather than speaking through the prophets, God himself now spoke and dwelled among God’s people to spread God’s rule from the heavenly realm to the earthly. By rejecting everything in their lives that did not point to God and by believing in Jesus, the people, beginning with Simon, Andrew, James, and John, showed they were listening to God.

The manifestation of God’s kingdom proved itself in Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, as shown in the verses of Mark, chapter one, that follow today’s. Jesus challenges evil by casting from a man the unclean spirit that afflicts him, healing Simon’s mother-in-law of a fever, cleansing a man of leprosy, and teaching the people.

That culture believed illness was the work of Satan and the result of personal sinfulness. Therefore, in chapter two Jesus forgives a paralytic man’s sins in order to heal him. At that point he begins to encounter opposition from the Jewish religious leaders, who refuse to believe in him and accuse him of blasphemy, saying that only God can forgive sins. Over time this opposition hardens to the point that the very men who are to guide the people to serve God are responsible for crucifying the Son of God.

Sisters and brothers, nearly 2,000 years after Jesus lived, we carry on in the time of fulfillment, which will be completed only when Jesus returns in glory. Much work remains as the Church labors to spread the kingdom of God. And repentance is no less crucial today then ever, for Satan continues his adept efforts to undermine our faith in Jesus.

The evil one is very clever. We see this today, as countless people in the U.S. and around the world—so many of them good people who want to do what is right, and a large number of whom also belong to the Catholic Church or other Christian denominations—view abortion as acceptable.

There is boundless additional evidence of Satan’s wily ways at work: that desperation and hopelessness are growing in many places because of unemployment, inequality, and lack of opportunity; that wars are being waged and vast wealth is being wasted on designing and manufacturing weapons; that we in wealthy nations so easily tolerate the millions of deaths from AIDS and other diseases, especially in poor lands; and that governments and peoples around the globe persist in fouling and environmentally degrading this home we call Earth.

How necessary it is that we beseech God to forgive us and strengthen us to recognize every human person as our sister or brother and child of our common Father, including the baby in the womb, the South African mother and child afflicted with AIDS, the innocent Afghani whose life is at risk in the war being waged in her country, and the family down the street from here whose parents lost their jobs and might soon lose their home.

Today is the 39th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. A lot of folks from around the nation, including the Cleveland area, are gathering in Washington, D.C., to protest this action, which has led to more than 39 million abortions in the U.S. I saw a video-interview of a woman who was aborted but survived the procedure and whom the doctor resuscitated. Adopted and raised by a loving couple, she now works for the elimination of abortion. You might not have seen this video, so to give you the chance to lay eyes on people who potentially could have been victims of Roe v. Wade. Would those of you among us who were born after January 22, 1973, please stand?

The law of the land allows abortions. It also allows war and poverty, and it often turns a blind eye to inequality and disease. In our own way, you and I do the same, when we don’t speak up and when, in our own homes, schools, and work places, we fail to forgive, or we tolerate racism, or we speak or act violently.

Rather, let us pray for those in need. Let us help poverty-stricken young mothers. Let us voice our opposition to abortion. Let us tell our government we reject our country’s huge military budget and involvement in war. Let us demand that our national resources be spent to improve the lives of our suffering sisters and brothers, both at home and in distant lands.

Let us do these things, with the power God gives us through Jesus Christ’s Body and Blood, because in these ways we carry on his work of opposing Satan, and in these ways we hasten that day when the time of fulfillment will at last be completed, the kingdom of God will embrace all creation, and people everywhere will profess Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

One December 23 morning a few years ago, some Salt Lake City firefighters made an emergency medical run, and while they were tending to the person in distress, they heard their fire engine’s air horn blaring outside. Two of them rushed outside and found a man trying to steal the $500,000 truck, which he had put in reverse and almost run into an ambulance. When they pulled him out of the driver’s seat he put up a real fight, and several more firefighters were needed before he finally was subdued. It turned out that the thief was an intoxicated homeless man who wanted to get back to Washington to see his mother on Christmas.

What is a fire engine’s purpose? Its purpose is to put out fires and thus preserve lives and property, right? While such equipment can be used for visiting one’s mom a thousand miles away, to do that really would be an abuse.

There is a right purpose for everything on this earth, including our bodies. St. Paul founded a Christian community in the important Greek port of Corinth in about the year 51 and after some time there then moved on. He kept in touch with its leaders, who informed him that things were getting out of hand and asked for his advice. One problem was that many of the believers there had forgotten the importance of unity and now were divided into factions. Another was that some had sued their fellow Christians in pagan courts of law instead of seeking mediation within the Church. Still others saw nothing wrong with going back to their old custom of offering sacrifice in pagan temples.

St. Paul wrote to this young church to offer correction, and in today’s verses he speaks to the issue of sexual morality. Fidelity within marriage was a very important value to the Church, as it still is. However, this was not so much the case in the Greco-Roman culture that prevailed all around them. Christians who had once been pagans sometimes slipped back into their old habits, and St. Paul is chiding those in Corinth who have gone this route.

The loose morals of their society had oozed into the Church community, undermining the Christian conviction that the human body is holy, belongs to God, and is to be used to serve God. No more than a fire engine should be used for a long-distance road trip to visit mom should we use our bodies for immoral purposes.

One of our core beliefs is in the resurrection of the body. The Church teaches that when Jesus returns in glory, the bodies of those who were faithful to him will be raised and reunited with their souls in heaven. This testifies to the great importance of our bodies. How we make use of them during our life’s journey determines whether or not the gift of eternal life will be ours.

Calling ourselves Christians but not living in accordance with the Church’s teaching doesn’t fly. Some of the believers in Corinth didn’t grasp this. They thought they were free to do whatever they wanted with their bodies, as long as they believed in Jesus as Lord and Savior. The freedom Jesus came into this world to give us is the freedom to serve his Father with our entire being, for in this alone do we find true happiness and peace.

God expects us to practice chastity. Therefore, a husband and a wife must be faithful to each other. A person who is unmarried must refrain from sex until marriage. Honoring this teaching can be difficult, especially since our society is awash with the message that sex is for entertainment or to sell products. Its true goal is to draw wife and husband together in an ever-deepening love and to allow that love to overflow through the birth of children.

Let us glorify God in our bodies! Chastity is one way we do this. We also accomplish this by using our bodily strength and skills to provide for our families and build up society, minister to the needy and defend the weak, give alms and pray. We are to practice self-denial, training our bodies and our wills by refusing to overindulge our desires.

The proper purpose for our bodies is to use them in God’s service. In a little while we will share in eucharist, which will give us strength for our challenging vocation as Christians.

We continue our Christmas Season with more of the Gospel infancy narratives, telling us how God entered our world as a baby, in today’s gospel story revealed to the Magi.

Herod is currently the king in Judah/Israel. He was appointed by the Roman emperor. Herod is wealthy and powerful. He has built palaces, and entire new cities. Herod represents, for our story, all that the material world has to offer. He has it all. On the other hand, Herod is not well liked by the Jews, or anyone else, actually. He rules by intimidation. He destroys anyone who gets in his way, even by killing family members who might threaten his power.

The Scriptures tell us very little about the Magi. They come from “The East” and study the stars. The word “magi” is variously interpreted as kings, astronomers, astrologers, magicians, enchanters, and so on. Probably the best interpretation of “magi” is “wise men.” We do not know exactly who or what they were, but the were intelligent, wise, and wealthy enough to travel from home and offer expensive gifts to the Christ Child.

The magi have been watching the stars, and have seen a new star. The stars tell them that this new star belongs to a new king in Judah. So they follow the star, not knowing exactly where it is leading them, and not knowing exactly what to expect when they arrive. But they follow the star being provided by God. It seems that when they reach Judah the star disappears. They realize that they need help. They admit that they cannot find the new king on their own, and they begin asking where to find him. They end up going to Herod. They try to find their answer in the one who represents all the material wealth and power of the world.

Herod does indeed provide them with directions. And he tells them to come back to him after they find Jesus. He says he wants to pay homage to the newborn king. (We find out later that what he really wants is to eliminate this threat to his power.)

After the Magi seek help and receive it, not so much from Herod himself as from the priests and scribes who know the scriptures and the ways of God, the star reappears. They visit Jesus, humble themselves before him, and open their treasures to him. Then these wise men and women return home, not the way they came, but by a different route. They have received a warning in a dream, so they do not go back to Herod.

In the scripture readings used during Christmas Season, we find God speaking to people, to us, in a variety of ways. There are prophets, people who speak directly to us. There are angels appearing to people. God speaks in dreams. In today’s Gospel story God uses a star to point the way. God calls out to us in many different ways, through many people and events in our lives.

Like the Magi, we often look to Herod when we begin following the star and lose sight of it. We may turn to what the world has to offer, because we are looking for fulfillment, but are not sure where to look. God calls to us, offers a star to follow or a prophet to hear. Perhaps it is your parents, or your children; maybe a teacher, a preacher, or a friend; maybe a counselor, or a run-in with the law. Maybe you are meant to be that star for someone else.

Again like the Magi, we come to the Lord by way of the material world. We are, after all, material beings (as well as spiritual). But like the wise women and men in our gospel story, we need to be careful not to return home by the way of Herod; because Herod wants to destroy Jesus. Herod comes to represent our unhealthy attachments (St. Ignatius of Loyola) to the material world, our addictions, whatever they may be. Perhaps we are overly attracted to the world around us, the alcohol or drugs, or sex, or food, or wasting too much time watching television. The star is calling you and me to Jesus, to humble ourselves before Him, and open our treasures to Him. And to return to our Herod would be to destroy the goodness, the peace, the Divine Presence that we have found.

Let’s take some time to identify the stars, prophets, and angels leading us to Jesus; as well as the Herod’s attempting to destroy the eternal peace and happiness Jesus has to offer.

How appropriate it is that, as a new year stands before us, we greet it by celebrating our companionship with Mary, whom we commemorate under her most ancient title, the Mother of God.

A mother offers her children comfort, example, guidance, and correction. So Mary does for us, for she is not just the mother of Jesus but also our mother, the mother of the Church. For these things we look to her life story and rely on her prayers.

Of course, Mary’s greatest gift to us is the child she assented to bear, who took his humanity from her. Her very humanity is such a gift to us, as is her Son’s. Because both wrestled with the same troubles we face, they can identify with us and we with them. Because Jesus is God, we can rely on his all-embracing love and mercy, and we can depend on Mary’s intercession as his foremost disciple.

As Mary cuddled her new-born in Bethlehem, she and Joseph were faced with many unknowns, as is true for all parents. When in a short time she presented him in the temple in Jerusalem, Simeon would say that Jesus was destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and we would warn Mary that she herself would be pierced by a sword, meaning that her Son’s role would not leave her unscathed. Yet, she trusted in God. Many unknowns also confront us in the year 2012, and we too must trust God.

Those unknowns include frightening things, like the joblessness that has touched many of you gathered here. War continues in Iraq and Afghanistan, and terrorism remains a threat around the world. We worry about the sort of world we are leaving to our children. Of course this isn’t peculiar to our time. As I was leafing through one of my books, I came across something said by Britain’s King George VI 72 years ago, at a time that bears some resemblance to ours.

In late 1939 the new year that was dawning looked very bleak for the British. Three months earlier, Hitler had swallowed Poland, leading Great Britain and France to declare war against Nazi Germany. A period of uneasy calm followed, during which Britain and France desperately prepared for battle with Hitler’s formidable army. The British could not know just how awful 1940 would turn out to be: that Western Europe would be conquered, leaving Britain to stand alone, and their island would suffer terrible destruction from Nazi bombers, with invasion across the English Channel an ever-present threat.

As New Year’s Day 1940 approached, King George sat down at a BBC Radio microphone to give his Christmas broadcast. In it he quoted an American writer named Minnie Louise Haskins: “And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied: ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’”

We don’t know what challenges and opportunities await us in 2004, but if we put our hand into the hand of God, all will be well. That’s what the Blessed Virgin Mary did, and that’s what she encourages us to do.

With the help of the eucharist that strengthened her, and relying on God, who never let her down, let us as a community of faith step into the new year and work for the peace and justice that Jesus was born into our world to bring.
-Christmas 2011
“Alleluia! The Lord has established his reign. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory” (Rev. 19: 6-7). Amen? So the Book of Revelation exhorts us. Yes, sisters and brothers, we rejoice because God has saved us! Salvation is what we celebrate on this festival of Jesus’ nativity.

Saving us is what God is all about. Recall that episode in Matthew’s gospel during Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, some time before his Transfiguration, when he walked on the water. The disciples were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee one evening and saw Jesus walking toward them. Hearing their fearful cries that he was a ghost, he assured them of his identity, at which Peter asked him to command that he walk on the water. Jesus did, and Peter stepped out of the boat. He walked a short way but grew frightened and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus then grabbed his hand, and both climbed into the boat.

Though this event isn’t recorded in Luke, his gospel and its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, use the words save, savior, and salvation more than the other gospels combined. This concept of being saved, which is so central to the story of Jesus, is especially important in Luke’s writings, as we see in today’s gospel verses, as well as in several other spots in Luke’s two-chapter account of Jesus’ conception and birth.

I will never forget my older brother John’s would-be savior, Mike Robinson. One hot summer’s day when I was 6 years old, my Dad took the family to a lake park just outside of Akron. Along with us came Mike, a neighborhood kid who was 8 and John’s friend. All of us were playing in the water when suddenly my younger brother began to scream, “Help! John is drowning!”

John had wandered into water that suddenly grew deeper than he could handle. Not a swimmer, he was flailing in the water in a panic, struggling to keep his head above the surface. Mike Robinson was close by and rushed over to rescue John. The problem was that Mike also was no swimmer, so he found himself in trouble, too. By that time my Dad had responded to the crisis and pulled both boys to safety.

Mike Robinson tried to save my brother. Even though he himself couldn’t swim, he risked his life when he saw my brother in danger. No, I will never forget him.

Saving us is what God is all about, as Luke makes crystal clear. The human race was drowning in its sinfulness, and God came to save us, in the person of Jesus, the Savior of the world. Only God is capable of this, though we humans constantly attempt to save ourselves.

Did you know that Caesar Augustus was the savior of the world? Well, that’s what his subjects said, because he brought to an end the devastating Roman civil wars that lasted for almost 20 years following Julius Caesar’s assassination in 44 B.C. Luke knew of this claim. He includes Augustus in today’s gospel reading to force the question, who is the true savior of the world?

Augustus inaugurated 200 years free of civil war for Rome, though Roman armies killed and enslaved plenty of people in regional wars throughout that era. Augustus was no savior, nor did he bring real peace. No human ever has.

We won’t find salvation in any president or other political leader. Nor in science and technology, though many once insisted otherwise, until nations used them to create mustard gas, heavy bombers, napalm, and nuclear weapons. Communists preached their system and capitalists continue to preach their own, but neither is capable of transforming the world into Paradise. So we see in the death and destruction our nation has wrought in Iraq and Afghanistan, joblessness, the foreclosure crisis and the greed that precipitated it, the huge gulf between the richest and everyone else, addiction, terrorism, hundreds of millions of people forced to survive on a dollar a day, and famine in Africa.

It is beyond our human power to save ourselves. So the story of Augustus and Rome and all of human history makes clear, as does our experience of our own weakness. Salvation could come only through God.

Then God did something amazing and unimaginable: God sent a person like us in all things but sin to accomplish this task. God did so in order that we might learn to become fully ourselves, by learning from Jesus: to forgive, to sacrifice for others, to practice kindness, to turn the other cheek, to give without counting the cost, and to obey the Father in all things. In other words, Jesus taught us how to love. As we put him on more and more, we become the living gospel and thereby we serve as God’s instruments for transforming the world ever so slowly into Paradise.

God bless him, Mike Robinson tried to save my brother, and I’m forever grateful. May we all do our part, with the help of God’s grace, to carry on the mission of the Savior, Jesus Christ. We celebrate his birth today, and in a little while we will share in his Body and Blood. With the strength this sacrament imparts to us, let us go forth and cooperate in the work of salvation.

The good job Art once held is long gone. So is his wife, who has their two kids, whom he sees much less than he’d like. He also lost his house some years back. All thanks to alcohol and drugs. But Art has been sober for eight months now, and he has found work, even though it’s not a great job. It’s not as though he wakes up bubbling with joy every morning, but he works at nurturing joy and a sense of gratitude, because he is sure, with every ounce of his being, that God raised him from the dead. For Art was dead inside, and now he has life.

Today is Rejoice Sunday, which years ago was known as Gaudete Sunday, and it truly is a day for joy! The entrance antiphon for today’s Mass, not recited because instead we sang a hymn, comes from St. Paul and reads, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! Indeed, the Lord is near.” The Latin word for rejoice is gaudete, and, this being the first word of the antiphon, it provided the ancient title for this Sunday.

Our particular reason for joy today is that we are more than half way through Advent, with Christmas drawing ever closer. Just as prominent in the joy we feel, though, is the reality that St. Paul expresses at the end of the entrance antiphon, “The Lord is near.” We don’t know when Jesus will return in glory, but it could happen at any moment, and this prospect fills us with joy, a joy even greater than that of a 6-year-old at the thought of the toys she will receive at Christmas. Why? Because nothing could be greater than to be joined with God in heaven.

Sisters and brothers, God has done great things for us! How essential it is that we remember that Jesus has saved us through his cross and resurrection! For this reason we have far more to feel joy and gratitude for than Isaiah, whose great joy in our first reading arises from the return of his people to the Promised Land after 50 years of exile in Babylon.

Today’s second reading, taken from St. Paul’s first Letter to the Thessalonians, also urges us to rejoice and to do so always. In addition the Apostle exhorts us to express our thanks to God, whose love has freed us from the clutches of sin and death, and to pray without ceasing.

Every day Art reminds himself to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks. Due to his addictions, he had lost his life, but God helped him to find it again. Though to the casual observer he might have little, he knows himself to be greatly blessed. To stay sober another day, repair the damage he has caused to his family, and do what he can to help others who are struggling with demons like his own: For Art these are reasons to give thanks, practice joy, and keep close to God by persevering in prayer.

All of us have our own reasons for joy, thanks, and prayer, even as we face our daily struggles. Let us wear our Christian joy for all to see, confident in our certainty that we are blessed. And through the grace that comes to us in the eucharist, let us bear witness to Jesus by reaching out to the people around us who are hurting, so that they too might rejoice always.

Recently I watched the 1958 movie A Night to Remember, which tells the story of the sinking of the great ocean liner the Titanic on April 15, 1912.

As this vessel sped across the Atlantic, it received wireless reports of icebergs from ships that were ahead of it. However, the wireless operators were so swamped with messages that the wealthy passengers wanted sent out that they lost track of the iceberg reports, failing to send them to the captain.

Consequently, he didn’t reduce speed in those hazardous waters. And so, when the Titanic suddenly came upon the deadly iceberg, its swift speed didn’t give it time to maneuver, and the ship suffered a mortal blow.

The wireless operators should have been more alert to those iceberg reports. The captain and his officers and crew should have been more watchful and alert in waters that by experience they knew carried the risk of icebergs.

As the Church begins the season of Advent, we are reminded that we are to keep our spiritual senses alert and our hearts pliable, as we watch and wait for the day when the Lord will come. Dulled spiritual senses are dangerous, and sharpening them is what Advent’s about.

On board the Titanic, perhaps the sailors on watch that tragic night struggled to stay awake and alert, resisting the numbing influence of the bitter cold and the sleepiness that often comes with the long, boring hours on night watch. After all, almost never did anything happen, so it was terribly easy to drift into complacency, until their eyes closed and they were napping.

In a way that’s what happened to the Israelites. Ever so gradually, they drifted away from the Lord, not at all alert to the danger posed to them by their mindlessness. By losing sight of the Lord and the fidelity they owed him, they fell asleep. They became caught up in false values, until the Babylonian army conquered them and sent them into exile.

In our passage today from Isaiah, the prophet speaks of his people’s sorrow for their sinful ways. He anticipates the day when the Lord will intervene on behalf of his people, as he did when he led them to freedom from slavery in Egypt many centuries before. The Lord loved them, but their hardened hearts kept him at bay and had to become pliable again. And so their hearts did, when in exile the Israelites, who were the clay, turned again to the Lord their potter, thus allowing him to mold them anew.

The crew of the Titanic lost track of the key matter, alertness to the danger posed by icebergs. For their part, the Israelites stopped clinging to the Lord, which was the whole purpose of their being. Our challenge is to watch and wait for the day when Jesus will come again in glory, by keeping our spiritual senses alert and our hearts pliable.

Falling asleep is as easy for us as it was for Peter, James, and John as they waited for Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before his arrest. “Keep watch,” he told them as he went off by himself to pray. They couldn’t stay awake, and three times he returned to find them sleeping. “Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test,” he said to Peter, who failed the test by three times denying that he was a follower of Jesus.

Perhaps we have fallen asleep by giving in to consumerism, allowing the impulse to buy the latest must-have garment, toy, or electronic gadget to take God’s place. Or maybe self-indulgence with sex, alcohol, or food has made us mindless of God in our ways. Or it could be that apathy or the nursing of resentment over the injuries we’ve suffered has hardened our hearts.

Sisters and brothers, the antidote to spiritual sleepiness and a hardened heart is prayer. Certainly Peter came to know this after experiencing the risen Jesus’ forgiveness and baptism in the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Dulled spiritual senses are dangerous, and sharpening them through prayer is our purpose in Advent.

Developing the practice of regular, daily prayer keeps us open to God the potter, who then molds our hearts into vessels brimming with the Holy Spirit. By means of prayer and reliance on the sacraments of eucharist and reconciliation, we will avoid all spiritual icebergs and be ready when Jesus comes again in glory.

Are you a sheep or a goat? The people in today’s parable are surprised when Christ returns as the King and passes judgment. Jesus gives his disciples fair warning; and he describes very well who will be designated goats, and who will be designated goats.

The disciples to whom Jesus was speaking would have been familiar with the difference between goats and sheep. Goats are generally leaner, inquisitive, loners, wanderers, and independent; not often domesticated because they can be stubborn, wanting to go their own way. Sheep, on the other hand, tend to be weaker, communal, grazers, dependent on others for protection. Goats would prefer to go their own way, while sheep prefer to stick together, and follow a shepherd.

Who is your shepherd? There are many “shepherds” vying for your attention. There are shepherds deciding what we will see on television. There are shepherds telling us that we need bigger, or sportier, or more efficient cars. There are shepherds telling us that we need to redefine marriage, and that “women’s rights” are more important that an unborn child’s right to life. But there is only one Good Shepherd.

Psalm 23 starts with “The Lord is my shepherd.” It is possibly the most familiar psalm in the bible. It is one of the most comforting psalms we pray. A lord, at one time, was a landowner. If you were not a lord (or lady) then the land you lived on was borrowed or rented from the lord. The food you ate, which came from the land, belonged to the Lord. Everything belongs to the Lord. So, when we pray, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” we are saying that the owner of the place where we live is our shepherd. On top of that, Jesus is more than just a lord; He is the King. That is what we celebrate today—Christ the King.

The goats, then, are those who find their own place to live, with no landowner. And if there is no landowner, then the land is undeveloped, uncultivated, uninhabited — wilderness and chaos. They have no shepherd but themselves, no leader; and no one to protect them and care for them except themselves.

The goats try to do it all on their own; the sheep know that they cannot do it alone. The sheep are the ones who have acknowledged that they need a Shepherd, who is the Lord. The sheep know that everything they need comes from the Shepherd, and they follow Him, submitting to his authority. Jesus tells us that His sheep care for one another by feeding, clothing, and supporting those in need.

Christ, the King, will come in his glory to separate the sheep from the goats. Are you a sheep or a goat?

Do you believe that investing yourself completely in Jesus, following him wherever he leads, is a risk worth taking?

I met Peggy 15 years ago at the parish where I was serving then. In her early 30s, she held a very responsible position as an executive at the headquarters of one of the banks in downtown Cleveland. She earned an impressive amount of money each year, liked what she did, and enjoyed her colleagues. Yet, she found herself yearning for something that her job couldn’t provide.

After much soul-searching, she decided to leave her position, give up her salary, car, and lovely apartment, and enter the Notre Dame sisters as a novice. In this she greatly disappointed her mother, who took deep pride in her daughter’s success in the business world. “You’re crazy to abandon all you’ve accomplished to become a nun,” her mother repeatedly insisted.

Peggy believed with all her heart that this was a risk worth taking. She said, “How can I go wrong doing what I think God is asking of me?” Two years later Peggy left the Notre Dames, having discerned that the convent wasn’t her calling. I don’t know what her mother said to her, but I can imagine. My friend didn’t consider her choice to explore a religious vocation to be a mistake. No, she was searching, and she was willing to take risks.

What to do next? Peggy knew that returning to the world of banking wasn’t the answer. Her experience in the Notre Dames had taught her that for her, serving God in a more direct way was important. At that time, a leadership position in a diocesan office became available. She applied for it and was hired, at a salary far below a bank executive’s.

Some months later she met a man, and as time passed a deep love between them took root. To marry is never a decision to make lightly, but in this case it was even tougher, because Bill was a stroke survivor who had been left incapacitated. He no longer could work, and his health was quite tenuous. Prayer, counsel, much dialogue with Bill, and the willingness to again take the risk of putting herself completely at God’s service led Peggy to join herself with this man in matrimony.

How I admire her! Though taking risks is scary for anyone, perhaps doing so is even harder when it’s done not for something the world values, like riches or fame, but to serve God.

Sister and brothers, following Jesus is a risky proposition, but the reward both in this life and beyond it is phenomenal! The two servants who gambled with their master’s money and doubled it by trading with it instead of putting it in the bank or burying it in the ground are welcomed to share in their master’s joy. The master symbolizes Jesus, and the joy he speaks of is heavenly life.

On the other hand, the third servant succumbed to the doubts that are familiar to many of us; at least I know how much I struggle with them. Such doubts are the voice of Satan that says: You can’t do it. You don’t know how. You lack the ability. You’ll look foolish. Don’t risk the consequences. Be satisfied with the minimum.

The shy child who auditions for the school play takes a risk that to him feels huge, but he benefits so much, even if he doesn’t win a part. The adult who is invited to teach PSR and says yes, despite her fear that her knowledge is inadequate and she’ll bungle it, pleases God more than she can know.

In this passage from Matthew, Jesus is asking us invest ourselves fully in his mission. We’re not to hedge our bets by investing just a little. No, he is the winning number, and it’s essential that we put all that we are on the line for him, as Peggy has tried to do.

To be denounced as useless and be shoved out into the darkness like the third servant is a fearsome fate. To avoid it, we must make ample use of the faith given us. Let us imitate the two faithful servants, who weren’t content to return to their master only the amount he entrusted to them. As they doubled it, let us so nurture our faith that we give it back to God in exponential terms. We can do so because the Holy Spirit is active in our lives, bringing us here to the eucharist and inspiring us to share our faith with others.

By embracing the risk of putting ourselves completely at God’s service in this life, we will receive a rich blessing now and in heaven.

Let us not delay our preparations for Jesus’ return in glory, as though the time until then is inexhaustible. Rather, let us be ready now, through our loving deeds.

“Jim! Why are you at home? I’m at the airport and thought you’d be waiting here for me.”

Talk about getting that sinking feeling! Your wife caught an earlier flight, but you never got the -message because you forgot to recharge your cell phone. You thought you had all the time in the world to get the kids cleaned up and to put the house in order. Now there’s no time at all.

As a last-minute person, I’ve been bitten this way on more occasions than I can count. I tell myself there’s enough time to get around to a particular task later, and then I realize after another week has passed that I’ve waited too long and now have to enter into crisis mode.

The five foolish virgins in today’s parable from Matthew’s gospel have landed themselves in such a pickle. How could they have failed to provide themselves with enough oil for their lamps? They know that a bridegroom often arrives late to fetch his bride home, because haggling with the girl’s father over the bride price can be protracted. Yet, they run out of oil because they waited until the last moment to prepare themselves to escort the groom.

How glad the five wise virgins are that they are ready, for they, unlike the other five, can share in the wedding banquet.

Such a banquet symbolizes heaven, and the bridegroom symbolizes Jesus. How long we Christians, his bride, have been waiting for him to return in glory to take us to our heavenly home. The early Christians believed this would happen in their lifetime. These verses are part of a section in Matthew that concerns the end times, and it’s quite possible the evangelist includes them to encourage his listeners not to become lax and then find themselves unprepared.

My Uncle Larry was a bomber pilot in WWII. While on a raid in 1944 his plane ran out of fuel over Germany, and he and his crew had to bail out. Twenty years old at the time, tall and skinny, he returned home much skinnier after 15 months in a POW camp.

As he languished behind barbed wire, many times he must have relived that sinking feeling when he first noticed that they were so low on fuel and realized they’d never make it back. How could his ground crew have failed to load the bomber with enough fuel? And how could he, as the pilot, have been so unprepared as to neglect checking the fuel gauge before they took off, in fact not doing so until they were too far into their mission?

Not to be prepared has painful consequences. You let your spouse down, or you put your life and others’ at risk, or you fare badly on a test, or you fail to fulfill your responsibilities at work. Sisters and brothers, God calls on us to be prepared through lives of loving service. Such service is symbolized by the oil the 10 virgins were to use to keep their lamps burning. No wonder the five wise virgins refused to share their oil with the foolish ones. When the Lord comes in glory, you can’t very well share your lifetime of loving, self-giving deeds with those who chose to live for themselves.

Jesus isn’t late in arriving to usher in the end times. Rather, God is patiently giving us time to prepare ourselves and the world through our determination to imitate Jesus, so that all people might be saved. We come here every Sunday to share in the sacrament of Jesus’ death and resurrection because this gives us strength to love every person as sister or brother to us.

Jesus is on his way, according to plan. And we are ready, thanks to our determination each day to build up our stockpile of fuel through our loving actions.

-10/30/11 - 2011 Finance
Almost 84 years ago to the day, on October 20, 1927, the first Mass was celebrated in St. Therese Parish’s new church, which was in the school building that now is home to John Paul II Academy. Archbishop Joseph Schrembs had established the parish on February 1 of that year. Fr. Richard Gibbons, the first pastor, didn’t waste any time, and in less than five months the combined church-school building stood complete, on land donated by the Schmitt families.

The families of the new parish made many sacrifices to see that structure go up. With the growth of Garfield Heights came an increase in the number of Catholics. This required additional sacrifices, so that the school building could be expanded in the late 1940s and finally our present church building could be constructed 10 years later.

Probably some of you here today remember this growth that occurred under Fr. Thaddeus Marchant and Msgr. James Smith. The vibrant community of faith of those days, though grayer of head now, retains great vitality. The Mass and the sacraments that long have nourished us continue to spiritually feed and comfort many in this neighborhood. We hear the gospel message and act on it, carrying Jesus Christ with us into our homes, the work place, school, and civic life.

Acting on the Lord’s command to serve the least among us, we feed the hungry, assist the financially-strapped with their prescriptions and heating bills, sponsor Alcoholics Anonymous, visit the sick, and comfort the elderly. Our school makes a big difference in the lives of many children, and through PSR, the RCIA, and adult faith formation we come to know Christ better.

St. Therese Parish is not bricks and mortar but you, the hundreds of families that every Sunday are fed here by God’s word and the eucharist and then share that sustenance with others. I thank you for the sacrifices that, out of your love for God and our community, you willingly make, by means of your volunteer efforts and your generous response when the collection basket goes around.

Many of you willingly give of your material blessings, even during these challenging economic times. You are not strangers to sacrifice. Sacrifice built this parish, and your sacrifice sustains it. However, the only conclusion we can draw from the financial report in today’s bulletin is that added sacrifice is needed for the sake of our parish, and I am asking you to commit yourself to such sacrifice now.

Five months ago I stood here and expressed my concern about the parish’s deficit. At this time last year I spoke similar words. I regret that my message is no different today. The church fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2011, saw a deficit of about $132,000. The previous fiscal year it was almost $93,000, and the year before that it was nearly $30,000.

I have cut our costs by more than $100,000 since January, mostly by eliminating positions on our staff and reducing wages and benefits. I was guided in this by the advice of the Parish Finance Council, whose assistance to me has been indispensable. Now we have to increase our revenues, through the weekly collection as well as fundraisers, in order to rectify our shortfall of about $2,500 every week. If the families that regularly attend the weekend masses each contributed an extra $6 every week, within a year we would see no deficit. The reality is that some are in no position to increase their giving. Hopefully, though, others could go beyond that $6 per week, and if you can, I ask that you do.

The Parish Finance Council and I, with the assistance of the Diocesan Finance Office, will review the financial pattern of the past few years and make a 3-5 year projection. That work is likely to be completed by the end of the year, and early next year I intend to hold a town hall meeting, to seek your input.

During the past three years the parish has drawn on its savings and investment to the tune of about $200,000, reducing them to around $775,000. That sounds like a lot of money. However, such major expenditures as replacing the church’s boiler and air conditioning system and replacing portions of the church’s roof are unavoidable in the next few years, which will cut into that total significantly.

All of us know that a family spending more than it earns year after year eventually comes face to face with harsh reality. The diocese is not in a position to come to our rescue if we cannot get our financial house in order.

Sisters and brothers, I need your help. We all want to see St. Therese Parish, which has been a vibrant part of Garfield Heights for 84 years, thrive for generations to come. Help your church with your prayers and volunteerism. Invite others to worship with us. Share with me, the Parish Finance Council, and the Parish Pastoral Council your ideas not only on fundraising but also on how we can grow in our spiritual vitality. And do all that you can to add to our weekly collections. These sorts of efforts will enable this parish, built and sustained at such sacrifice, to endure.

-10/23/11 - Bugaj
There is no parable in today’s gospel; so I’ll provide a story. It is a fine autumn morning, around quarter past eight. Two drivers approach a school zone on the road. The crossing guard has just arrived and is walking toward the street. A few children are walking on the sidewalk along the road toward the school. The school zone lights are not flashing yet, but will be in a few minutes. The first driver thinks, “Good, the lights aren’t flashing. I don’t have to slow down. I’m running late enough as it is,” and continues past the school without slowing down. The second driver, seeing the children and the crossing guard thinks, “I know the lights aren’t flashing, but there are some kids here, and there might be more that I can’t see yet. I had better slow down, just to be safe.” In your opinion, as the Pharisees would ask, which of the two drivers best obeyed the Law? *

We have one driver who knows to slow down when the lights are flashing. We have another driver who wants to slow down out of a desire to protect the children, out of love.

What Jesus does in today’s gospel passage is to identify the essential command on which all other commandments contained in the Torah (“The Law”) and Rabbinic law are based. Jesus quotes two verses from Torah. First, love the Lord your God with your whole heart, mind, and soul; with everything you are. (Dt.6:4–9) Then, love your neighbor. (Lev.19:18) Every other command in scripture flows from this.

Love of God and love of neighbor are intimately tied together. We are created in the image of God; it follows that if I love God I would love God’s image. John tells us in his first letter that if we do not love our brothers and sisters “whom we can see” how can we claim to love God “whom we cannot see.” (I Jn 4:20) Our love for God must be manifested in our love of one another.

Then, what does this love look like? Just look at the cross. This love is not a feeling, an emotion, a sentiment. It is dedication, commitment, self-sacrifice for another person. God loves the world so much that God became human in the person of Jesus, (Jn 3:16) and died for us. Here, at this altar/table Christ gives us his body and his blood to nourish us so that we can share in his love. We receive strength to then share that love with one another and with our world.

In more day-to-day terms, what does the love to which we are called look like? St. Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 13, tells us that love is patient, kind, not pompous, not rude, never seeking its own interests… Does that sound familiar? Take a look at Paul’s definition of love sometime later today or tomorrow. (I Cor 13:4–7)

Who is it that we are to love? In Luke’s gospel, this story is followed immediately by the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus points out that everyone is my neighbor. Looking at our first reading today from Exodus (Ex.22:20–26) the Lord singles out for protection the poor, widows, orphans, and aliens (“legal” or “illegal”). My neighbors are not limited to people in my family, my town, or my country. Everyone is covered by God’s definition of neighbor. We might even extend that to include all of God’s creation.

So, our love of God is manifested in our love of neighbor, including people we may never meet; and it takes the form of self-sacrifice. This weekend we celebrate “World Mission Sunday.” We cannot all go to visit our neighbors in far off lands, but we can send a few missionaries. St. Paul was a missionary, carrying the good news of the Gospel to non-Jews. Without missionaries, the Americas would not have been converted to Christianity. This church would not be here. Just a few days ago we celebrated the feast of the North American Martyrs who gave their lives so that the Gospel might spread here. Our own patron saint Therese is also the patron saint of missionaries. In light of this being World Mission Sunday, we have a very immediate way to show our love for our distant neighbors by our generosity.

If you want to know what love looks like, gaze upon the cross. It is self-sacrificing love for our “neighbors” that expresses our love of God, Who first loved us. (I Jn 4:19)

The great 18th-century Austrian composer, Franz Joseph Haydn, like many composers of his day, owed his well-being to the aristocrat who employed him. This was a Hungarian prince named Nicholas Esterházy, said to be richer than even the Austrian emperor, whom he served as a high-ranking army officer.

Haydn was extremely grateful to the prince, since without him he would have endured poverty, like his friend Mozart, who had no rich sponsor. Therefore, he gave back to the prince by pouring his heart and soul into composing beautiful music to delight him. For nearly 50 years Haydn worked for this aristocratic family.

All of us understand such a relationship. Parents give us life and love, and we their children honor them and in their twilight years lovingly care for them. A university awards you an academic scholarship, and you strive to repay their trust by studying hard.

Do you and I give God what we owe God? That’s the question our reading from Matthew’s gospel poses.

Can you think of anything that you don’t owe God? (Pause)

Everything in our lives comes from God, and if we want true happiness we must give it back to God.

Clearly the Pharisees don’t believe this. From the first time Jesus appears, they oppose him, even though he has restored sight to the blind, fed the hungry, welcomed sinners to repent and follow him, and cast out demons. Though he is the light of God’s love for all to see, the Pharisees, chief priests, and other religious leaders reject him.

Today’s passage comes from chapter 22, and all the way back in chapter 3, before Jesus is baptized, John the Baptist calls the Pharisees a brood of vipers and challenges them to produce good fruit as sign of their repentance. They never do, because they are blind to the debt they owe God.

A tree is known by its fruit, Jesus observes in chapter 12, going on to say that the one who does the Father’s will is his family. Because the religious leaders stand in opposition to Jesus, they will lose their place in the kingdom of heaven. That’s what we heard two Sundays ago in the parable of the vineyard, in which the tenants refuse to give the owner the grapes, kill his son, and themselves will die for their crimes.

Ultimately, everything belongs to God. The Pharisees demonstrate that they don’t care about this by their attempt to trap Jesus. If he says not to pay the tax, the Romans will arrest him. If he answers that the Jews should pay it, he will alienate the large share of the people who detest Rome.

His clever response reminds us that while we bear responsibility for the well-being of our society, in the end all comes from God and is to be returned to God. Even the political power exercised in the world isn’t independent of God. So Isaiah tells us in our first reading when, as God brings to power the Persian emperor Cyrus to use to free the exiled Jews, God says, “I am the Lord and there is no other.” When we give of ourselves to benefit other people, and that’s what society is, we give of ourselves to God.

The Pharisees are willing to acknowledge God as Lord and Maker. However, they treat worldly power, as represented by Caesar, as though it’s not subservient to God but apart from and indeed more important than God.

Jesus and the Pharisees and other religious leaders form a stark contrast. Jesus will give back everything to his Father, even going so far as to give his life in ransom for the many. Jesus’ opponents give God words that sound devout, but they hypocritically give their time and efforts to their own selfish interests.

Haydn was indebted to Prince Nicholas, and in gratitude he gave him all the gorgeous music that filled his soul. There is nothing in our being and in our possession that doesn’t belong to God. May we give God our all in loving service to show our gratitude and so find true happiness.

And if, in reflecting on the past week, we see that we didn’t give God what we owe God, let us express our sorrow, approach the altar to share in the Eucharist that enables us to imitate Jesus, and go forth from here to render unto God all that belongs to him.

In Jesus’ day no king ever would have invited the rabble to his palace for a feast. He only would have welcomed others who were, like himself, among the upper crust. The people listening to this parable of Jesus would have immediately been aware that the king was doing something astonishing. They couldn’t begin to imagine what life was like for someone as remote and all-powerful as a king.

This was precisely the point Jesus was making: God’s way is very different from ours. Earthly rulers tend to set themselves apart from the common people, but that isn’t God’s approach. Jesus challenges us to turn aside from our inadequate, sinful manner of living and adopt God’s style of loving. If we don’t, then we will be rejected, like the first group of guests who chose not to attend the feast. They represent those among the Jews who persecuted the prophets, Jesus, and the early Church.

However, Matthew wants his Christian listeners to understand that they, too, can find themselves on the outside. That’s his message in the second parable, which involves the guest who isn’t wearing a wedding garment. This garment signifies the good deeds that should be evident in our lives as Christians. If we make the mistake of thinking that we’ve got it made and so talk the talk without walking the walk, we’ll be in for a rude awakening come judgment day, which in the Bible often is imaged as a wedding feast, as we see in this passage.

The chief priests and elders often opposed Jesus and were part of the crowd listening to today’s parables. One reason for their antagonism and that of the scribes and Pharisees was his practice of reaching out to Jews like Matthew the tax collector, whom they rejected as sinners and people not good enough for the Jewish faith. Jesus frequently welcomed these outcasts to break bread with him. He preached repentance to them, taught them about God’s all-embracing love, and invited them to become his followers.

Jesus’ ministry was to the lost sheep of Israel, but the gospels present him as occasionally healing or casting out demons from Gentiles, too. His love encompassed every person, whom he wanted to hear the message of his Father’s love and experience his Father’s healing touch.

Our society, our world, and even we who already follow Jesus have done a poor job of learning his ways. No one’s name is not to be found on the guest list for the heavenly banquet. Some of the scribes and Pharisees rejected this notion, putting themselves at risk of arriving at the banquet without a wedding garment. We run the same risk by treating any group or individual as undeserving of our love.

One night in July a mentally-ill man in our neighborhood came out of the night-time shadows on our property, really taking me by surprise. He was hardly responsible for his behavior then and later, but I certainly didn’t treat him like a fellow guest at the heavenly banquet.

A Black or Hispanic man who is gay, a Muslim, an undocumented immigrant, and poor is passionately loved by God, no less than anyone else. However, such a person has five strikes against him in our land, perhaps even here in this church.

The day will come when every human being is acknowledged to be brother or sister to every other human being, all welcome at the same table, first on earth and in the end in heaven. That’s God’s way. Our job as Christians is to make it our way and to lead the rest of the human race to embrace this truth.

Recently I spent 11 days on vacation in Canada at Georgian Bay, which is part of Lake Huron and lies a two-hour drive north of Toronto. I’d never been there before, though my grandfather used to go fishing in that huge body of water way back when. I headed up that way to get a look at it. I saw some beautiful scenery and enjoyed hiking in Bruce Peninsula National Park. When I told some friends about my plans, they expressed concern that I’d wind up as dinner for a bear. Taking their fears to heart, I made sure to learn what to do in the event of a bear encounter. Luckily, the largest wild animals I laid eyes on were two fox, a raccoon, and two porcupines! Though I didn’t know it when I first decided that Georgian Bay would be my destination, I soon discovered that there is found the shrine to the North American Martyrs. Visiting it and some of the places where these martyrs ministered proved to be the high point of my trip.

Maybe you aren’t familiar with the story of these men. They were eight in all, Frenchmen who came to the New World in the 17th century to work in Huronia. This was the name given to the territory of the Huron Indians, in what is now the southern portion of Georgian Bay. Six were Jesuit priests: Isaac Jogues, Jean de Brebeuf, Antoine Daniel, Gabriel Lalemant, Charles Darnier, and Noel Chabanel. The remaining two were Rene Goupil and Jean de la Lande, both laymen assisting the Jesuit missionaries. I am captivated by their story of suffering and loving service. They showed remarkable courage in leaving behind the comforts of home to adopt the hard life familiar to Native Americans. They and their fellow Jesuits and lay helpers had to learn strange languages, eat food they often found unpalatable, and endure hunger, hostility, and an extremely harsh and unforgiving wilderness environment.

Despite these challenges, they helped to bring the gospel to Canada, which was then known as New France. The Jesuit mission began in 1625. Between 1641 and 1649 the eight martyrs sacrificed their lives, most at the hands of the Iroquois, who hated both the Hurons and the French. Some of the missionaries died only after enduring horrible torture, as often was the fate of the Iroquois’ captives, both native and European. The year 1650 witnessed the scattering of those Hurons who had survived the Iroquois’ onslaught, leading to the end of the Jesuit mission among them. The shrine to these faith-filled men is found in Midland, Ontario, and as I explored it and prayed there, my regard for them deepened. I felt privileged to gaze upon their relics and tried to imagine their lives of ministry in the wilderness. Their story deeply touched their contemporaries, and it remains an inspiration today.

-09/25/11- Bugaj
“Which of the two [sons] did his father’s will?” Jesus tells us a parable about two brothers (they could just as well be two sisters). Let’s take a more contemporary setting for the story. Saturday morning Dad comes to the First Son, “First Son, I had planned to clean up the garage so we can get a car in today, but I just got called in to work. I need you to take care of cleaning up the garage for me.” First Son says, “I’d like to help you out, Dad, but I already made plans with the guys to meet down at the Cinemark to see the new Lion King in 3-D; and then go to the driving range for a while.” “Never mind, I’ll get your brother to do it.” Dad explains to the Second Son that he needs him to clean up the garage, and Second Son agrees. After Dad leaves for work, the phone rings. Some of Second Son’s friends ask if he wants to come down to the high school to shoot some hoops. “Sure, I told Dad that I would clean up the garage, but I can do that later.” (Chances are that plan will fall apart.) Meanwhile, First Son gets in his car in the driveway, looks at the garage door, and decides to call his friends; “I need to take care of something, you guys go ahead without me. We can get together later.”

The first son changed his mind, had a change of heart, he repented. Like this repentant son, the tax collectors and prostitutes have repented. These are the ones who are “entering the kingdom of God” before the chief priests and elders. And the chief priests and elders would likely say, “That is not fair.” Those people are sinners; they do not attend the synagogue; they do not offer sacrifice in the Temple; how can they enter the Kingdom of God before we who follow all the rules?”

The problem is that the “in crowd” are saying “Yes” but not following through with real action, they are so sure that their way is the right way that they cannot see their need to repent. Meanwhile, the “sinners” have seen the need to repent and have, in the words of today’s second reading, taken on “the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus.” That attitude is described by St. Paul as doing “nothing out of selfishness,” “looking out not [just] for one’s own interests, but also for those of others,” “regarding others as more important than yourselves.” Paul continues his letter by quoting an ancient hymn about Jesus.

Jesus, who “was in the form of God,” who is God, who John’s gospel calls the Word of God present with the Father before the beginning of time, did not cling to his godliness. Unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus did not grasp at divinity; rather, he emptied himself. He did not use his divine power to change stones into bread when he was fasting in the desert. When being interrogated by Pilate, he did not reply, “Yes, I am a king and you are going to pay for this.” Nor did he call down angels when the guards taunted him at the Cross. He remained obedient to the Father. He said yes by his words throughout his life, and in Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion, and said yes by his actions. Jesus, regarding our need for redemption more important than his own needs, remained obedient to the point of death on a cross. That is the example we are given.

As a result of his obedience, Jesus is given the “name which is above all others.” He is to be called “Lord,” the same name used throughout the Old Testament for God. Wherever God’s name (YHWH) appears in the Hebrew Scriptures, it would never be pronounced; instead the one reading would use the name “Adonai,” Hebrew for “Lord.”

Our reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians concludes by telling us that eventually “every knee will bend, …and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” By our words and our actions, we will confess Jesus as Lord. What we do here today are our ritual actions, our words that proclaim our worship of God. What we take with us into the everyday world are our real actions. Our words and actions here are meaningless if they do not translate into real actions saying “Yes” to the Father’s will in our everyday life. Our sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ at this altar are meant to strengthen us to go out into the world and “have the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus,” “humbly regarding others as more important than ourselves.”



“What is truth?” So Pontius Pilate responded when Jesus, standing before him to be tried, said that he had come into the world to testify to the truth and that everyone who belongs to the truth listens to his voice.

“What is truth?” This is a question that many in the world today also ask, in a voice as skeptical as Pilate’s. To a lot of people, truth isn’t universal but whatever each person as an individual considers it to be. And our society, which so honors individual freedom that often the common good suffers, struggles to differentiate between truth and falsehoods.

The Church recognizes that Jesus is the truth, which is why we look to his life to guide us. Our belief is that Jesus directs his Body, the Church, by means of the Holy Spirit, so that we may firmly adhere to the truth in the face of perplexing issues. We need such guidance, because the Church is part of the world, and the world’s influence sometimes proves harmful.

For example, Greek culture in the early days of Christianity had no problem with extramarital sex and with infanticide. In the temple of the Greek fertility goddess, the priestesses practiced sacred prostitution. Sexual relations with a priestess were seen as a method to coax the goddess to bless one’s wife or fields or herd with fertility. However, if a man’s wife gave birth to a girl, and he wanted a boy, it was perfectly acceptable to expose the child to the elements to die of the cold or be consumed by wild animals. Certainly this was even more the case if the child were deformed in some way.

Christians recoiled from such common practices of 2,000 years ago. May we similarly recoil at such ways of the world as might makes right and the rich grow richer while the poor grow poorer. But what should Christians do if one of their fellow believers seriously violates the way of life imparted by Christ?

This is the matter addressed in our passage from Matthew’s gospel. The injured party is to try in a loving manner to help the offender to see the wrong he or she committed. If that fails, a third party from the church gets involved, to assist in the process of reconciliation. If the offender still won’t budge, then it becomes a matter for the whole church, which has the power to expel.

Expulsion doesn’t sound very loving. However, in reality it is, because its purpose is to push the sinner to grasp that the wrong committed is so serious that it has jeopardized his or her spiritual well being. Paul, in chapter 5 of his First Letter to the Corinthians, strongly criticizes the believers in Corinth for allowing a man guilty of incest to remain a part of them. By tolerating this person’s ongoing participation in the community’s life, Paul is saying, they are causing harm. They are endangering both the faith community’s spiritual well-being and that of the sinner’s, who is blind to the gravity of his offense because his fellow Christians have responded so lackadaisically to it.

Jesus is the truth. What if we stand idly by as a sister or brother in faith turns her or his back on the truth, by making materialism her god, or indulging in extramarital sexual relations, or abusing his body with alcohol or drugs, or freely seeking an abortion while knowing how wrong this is, or by drifting away from the practice of our faith? Then we are responsible for the spiritual consequences to that person, as today’s verses from Ezekiel charge. A Christian community’s members watch out for each other, because we are tied together spiritually through baptism. Just as we don’t turn a blind eye if one of us can’t put food on the table, we don’t pretend all is well if one of us enters into serious sin.

Of course, any action we take must be inspired by love, in keeping with the Paul’s words from his Letter to the Romans, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” For this reason, it is critical that we pray with other Christians before taking action regarding an unrepentant brother or sister or any other challenging matter, as Matthew counsels in today’s final verses. We must exercise great wisdom in our relationships with one another. If our motive is to seek retaliation, to show our superiority, or to pass judgment, then we bring judgment down upon ourselves for our hypocrisy.

As the Body of Christ, we are committed to upholding the truth that is Jesus. This is very difficult, for we are sinners tempted to adopt the ways of a world that says above all to look out for number one. No, my friends, we are to look out for each other and everyone in need. Let us be true to this way of life, relying on the power that God grants us through Jesus’ Body and Blood, which make us one.

“Your kindness is a greater good than life,” we hear in verse 4 of Psalm 63, the response to today’s reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. I prefer another translation, which goes, “Your love is better than life.”

Your love is better than life.

The psalmist who authored this observes, in later verses not found here, how his enemies endanger him, and in response he has sought shelter in the temple, where he expresses his longing for God and his confidence in God’s love. No wonder the composers of our lectionary, the book of biblical readings at Mass, paired this psalm with our passage from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah.

This prophet lived during a time of great upheaval and danger for his people. Their leaders trusted not in God but in their own ability to guide Israel as the great powers, Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt, vied for dominance. Israel’s tendency always was to turn its back on the true God in favor of the gods of its neighbors, particularly when it fell under the control of one or another of these enemies. God called on Jeremiah to denounce the leadership. The prophet longed for a quiet, peaceful life, but his love for God forced him to speak up. During his 40 years of prophetic ministry he often was a thorn in the side of those who ruled, who, according to tradition, killed him after Jerusalem fell to Babylon in 587 B.C.

Just before today’s passage, Jeremiah has been scourged and placed in the stocks for prophesying suffering for Jerusalem because of its infidelity. As a result he experiences an interior crisis, as his friends and many others turn against him. We hear him accusing God of duping him. He expresses his desire to no longer speak for God but admits that he feels compelled, against his will, to serve as God’s instrument. In subsequent verses he goes on to express his confidence that his enemies will not triumph.

“Your love is better than life.” Jeremiah must have fervently believed this, considering how he dedicated his life to serving God. This was Jesus’ heart-felt conviction, too, as our reading from Matthew’s gospel suggests. Here we encounter Jesus’ first prediction of the fate that awaits him in Jerusalem, the city where so many prophets, like Jeremiah, suffered on account of their love for God. Loving his Father as he does, Jesus will not turn aside from the cross, even as Peter tempts him to do so.

In the words of Psalm 63, the psalmist, Jeremiah, and Jesus all thirsted for God like parched, lifeless earth. This is the sentiment of every person who, seeking to serve God, inevitably runs afoul of those who see life in this world as better than God’s love.

Sister and brothers, let us believe with all our hearts that God’s love is better than life! And because we believe this, let us act on it! Every human person thirsts for God, like parched earth thirsts for water, though many in their blindness seek to satisfy this thirst by worldly gain. Knowing the truth, how can we let them die of thirst?

In baptism we have experienced the water of life. In eucharist our thirst has been eased by the Blood of Christ and our hunger by the Body of Christ, though they will not be fully satisfied until we take our place at the heavenly banquet. Seeing others who are ignorant of the truth that Jesus is the source of life, far be it from us to opt not to lead them to him, despite the suffering this can bring.

Jeremiah was martyred for his effort to save his people from their blind leaders, and so was Jesus. As his followers who obey his command to deny ourselves and take up our cross, we have no choice but to guide others to him. It feels risky to speak about our faith in Jesus and to give witness to him. Like Jeremiah, we want peace and quiet.

As the prophet was ridiculed and abused, so will we be for denouncing abortion and capital punishment, for promoting peacemaking over militarism, and for crying out on behalf of the victims of poverty and bigotry. Such ridicule and abuse can be the dish a child’s soccer teammates serve him or her because mom and dad insist that going to church on Sunday takes precedence over the game scheduled at the same time as Mass. Ridicule and abuse can be your reward from family members who think that it’s nutty to live simply when you can afford a more lavish lifestyle and who call your almsgiving excessive.

Harriet Tubman wasn’t satisfied with the freedom she gained by escaping from those who held her in slavery in Maryland in 1849. She put her life at risk dozens of times to guide others from slavery in the South to freedom in the North in the years shortly before the American Civil War. St. Maximilian Kolbe might have survived Auschwitz if he hadn’t volunteered to take another man’s place among those selected by Nazi guards to die by starvation because of a prisoner’s escape attempt.

“Your love is better than life” is the conviction that has prompted countless holy people to accept the burden of a heavy cross and by so doing to bear witness to Jesus. May the same conviction inspire each of us to willingly do the same, that we might receive the gift of eternal life and help our brothers and sisters along the way to heaven.

How we introduce someone depends on our relationship with that person. Consider the relationship history of a married couple. We’ll call them Mary and Joe. They meet at school, and for a while they introduce one another as “my friend from school.” Then they start dating, and they introduce one another as “my girlfriend” and “my boyfriend.” When things get more serious, it becomes “this is my fiancé.” And now, they are saying, “I would like to introduce my wife, Mary or my husband, Joe.” As the relationship changes, so do their introductions. The words express their personal relationship.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” There are a number of responses. Even today, if I ask, “Who is Jesus Christ?” there will be a variety of answers; even in this church I might get a variety of answers. He was a prophet; he was a respected teacher; he set an example for us of how to live. Even if you say, “He is the Messiah, the Son of God, our Redeemer,” is that just another fact about Jesus? Are you answering from your heart, the center of your being, or just repeating what you have heard? Does your reply represent your relationship with Jesus?

Jesus asks all the disciples “Who do you say that I am?” The only response we hear is Simon’s. I call him Simon because at this point in the story, he is not yet called Peter. As far as we can tell from this Gospel passage, only Simon recognizes Jesus as “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” What that means for Simon is that he knows Jesus as the One who has come to redeem Israel; he knows Jesus as Lord of his life.

Now that Simon knows and acknowledges who Jesus is, Jesus says to him, “…Simon, son of Jonah… I say to you, you are Peter.” “Now that you know me, I will tell you who you are; and you are a rock (petros in Greek).” Throughout the Bible, God changes people’s names when He has a special purpose for their lives. Abram and Sarai become Abraham and Sarah when Abram enters into a covenant with God (Gen 17:4-5). Jacob becomes Israel after he wrestles with the angel of God (Gen 32:29). Saul begins using the name Paul after encountering God and being sent on his first missionary journey and “is filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:2-9).

For us, when a child is brought for baptism, the first question in the ritual is, “What name have you chosen…?” When we come for the sacrament of Confirmation, we choose a new name. When a man or woman enters a religious community, it is not uncommon for him or her to take a new name. This new name represents entry into a new life. There is presumed to be a new state of being, a new mission, and a new purpose for your life. As we say in the Rite of Baptism, “You have become a new creation.”

God says to Abram, I know who you think you are, but to me you are Abraham, the father of a multitude of nations. God says to Jacob, I know who you think you are, but to me you are Israel, a people set apart to reveal me to the nations. God says to Saul, I know who you think you are, but to me you are Paul, apostle to the Gentiles. God in the Person of Jesus says to Simon, I know you think you are just a fisherman, but to me you are Peter, the Rock on which I will build my Church. God says to me and to you, “I know who you think you are, who the world says you are; but I say, “you are mine, and I have a purpose for your life.”

Those “gates of Hell” might be the gates that prevent us from breaking free of the world’s opinion of who we are. But Jesus says that those gates cannot prevail against the power given to the Church built upon the Rock. As the People of God, we gather here to be inspired by the Word of God proclaimed in Scripture. We worship God, and ask God to bless us. We receive the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, which unites us to Him and to one another within His Body. This nourishment gives us the strength to say, from deep within our hearts, “Lord, You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. You are Emmanuel, God with Us. You are Jesus, Yeshua, God who Saves.”

“Lord, I know who I think I am. I know who the world says I am.

Lord, Who do You say that I am?”

The power of evil is ever at work in the world, constantly seeking to dupe us. Satan wants to convince us that we humans are doomed to division, always to be at odds and at each others’ throats. There’s never enough to go around, the Evil One wants us to believe, whether it is food and water, or health-care, or educational resources, or jobs. Therefore, the only alternative is for every person to grab what he or she needs, leaving all the rest to fend for themselves.

However, the truth, as Jesus revealed during his life among us, is that in the Kingdom of God there is a place for everyone, whose needs will be satisfied by God’s love. In Scripture this Kingdom often is symbolized as a wedding feast that provides more than enough food for all. Two Sundays ago in the gospel reading, this superabundance was signified by the thousands of people Jesus fed with just five loaves and two fish, even to the extent that 12 full wicker baskets of food remained. Because the Kingdom of God isn’t just a heavenly reality but was planted in this world with Christ’s birth, growing little by little ever since, God uses us Christians to touch everyone with divine love, whatever that person’s need.

Yet how quickly even we who are the Church buy into the deceptions of Satan, that accomplished liar. It seems that Jesus himself makes this mistake in today’s verses from Matthew’s gospel, in terms of the bigotry he exhibits toward the Canaanite woman who approaches him.

The Jews looked down on the Gentiles, and they particularly despised the Canaanites, their ancestral enemies. In the eyes of the Jews, the Gentiles were dogs. Labeling someone as such was a deadly insult, since most dogs in Jesus’ day weren’t pampered house pets but vicious and diseased street scavengers.

This attitude regarding non-Jews had deep roots, as is reflected in our passage from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. The Jewish exiles recently have returned to Jerusalem from Babylon, to which they had been deported 60 years earlier. Severely tested during that period and now striving to rebuild the temple and their worship there, they are inclined to be inward-focused and exclusionary. For this reason the prophet calls on them to remember that God wants all peoples to recognize him as the only God and that the Chosen People are God’s instrument in accomplishing this.

Every human being is a product of his or her culture, and Jesus was no exception. Our gospel passage suggests that he was not free of his people’s dim view of the Gentiles. So says one school of biblical scholars, while according to another Jesus speaks as he does in order to test the woman’s faith. If Jesus indeed were influenced by this cultural bigotry, the healing he performs tells us that the Canaanite woman’s faith, persistence, and wit pushed him to rise above it.

Matthew quite possibly included this passage in his gospel to teach his listeners that God intends the Church to embrace all people, Jew and Gentile alike, for this was a burning issue in the early days of Christianity. In the end the Jewish Christians listened to the Holy Spirit and, remembering that Jesus had ministered to the Canaanite woman as well as to the centurion who earlier had asked him to heal his servant, welcomed the Gentiles into the fold.

Of course, Satan still strives to persuade us to close our doors to people on account of race or ethnicity or religion or sexual orientation or class. And because we Christians are sinners, sometimes we are persuaded. That’s why in 2000 Pope John Paul II apologized to the many groups the Church had injured over the centuries.

The forces of hatred yearn for us humans to succumb to division, as too frequently we do. War, famine, abortion, a warped economic system which rewards companies that slash jobs: all the result of the sinful credo that ours is a dog-eat-dog world in which there never will be enough to go around.

Yet, the way of God that Jesus revealed makes it clear that we humans have the capacity to forgive and build a world of justice and peace, if we open ourselves to God’s love. If we steward planet Earth well, we can produce enough food for all. If we tame our lust for power and money, we can see to it that everyone lives in human dignity.

In the movie Cowboys and Aliens, which I just saw, the rich rancher’s spoiled son terrorizes the town, the Indians and the whites are set on killing each other, and the bandits prey on travelers passing by. However, all these divisions are overcome out of recognition that if everyone doesn’t cooperate, they all will die at the hands of creatures from another planet that have begun zipping through the sky and blowing them to bits.

The message I took with me from this movie is that the divisions which rend us asunder, a sign of our human sinfulness, are fatal if ignored. As Jesus was able to see the Canaanite woman not as a dog but as a human being whose needs it was his duty to answer, so must we, his disciples, do in our time regarding all whom we tend to block out by erecting walls. The power of evil cannot stand if we unite against it.

By his death and resurrection Jesus conquered Satan, which means that love is stronger than sin. This we celebrate every Sunday at eucharist, to remind ourselves that the ultimate victory belongs to Jesus and all who serve him. Nonetheless, the wrongs we humans have committed during the 2,000 years since Jesus was raised show that the power of evil remains terribly seductive.

As the people of the eucharist, let us demonstrate what a liar Satan is. We must show the world that in Christ everyone has access to that love which alone can knock down all that divides us human beings.

Fr. Neil proves this as he ministers to prisoners, including Anthony Sowell, sentenced to death for killing 11 women in Cleveland. A couple I know, Mike and Pat Coughlin, gave evidence of this when they forgave the man who murdered their son. Clare and Felix Spittler of our parish make this clear by their dedication to the people of Haiti, whose race, language, and extreme poverty seem so markedly to set them apart from us. May each of us do our part, little though it may seem, to tell the world there is love enough for all.

Uncertainty. Fear. Anxiety. Helplessness. Impotence. Powerlessness.

These were some of the feelings that afflicted the soldiers of George Washington’s army as they struggled into Valley Forge, PA, in December 1777. They had marched countless miles that year, often to escape the powerful British Army. They were tired, hungry, poorly clad and ill-equipped.

Washington’s great concern was that his army would melt away because of inadequate supplies in their winter encampment. If it became necessary for his men to disperse in search of food, they might just head for home and never return.

Over the months, though, sufficient food did come in, and Washington held his troops together. In fact, the army emerged stronger that spring, because during those months it wasn’t idle. Constant training in the arts of war, drilling that it previously had lacked, brought to it a much greater sense of discipline that would prove crucial in future battles.

Uncertainty. Fear. Anxiety. Helplessness. Impotence. Powerlessness. Maybe these are some of the feelings that assail you, as you witness your mother’s mind succumbing increasingly to dementia, or at the growing prospect of losing your house to foreclosure, or as more and more jobs are trimmed where you work and you are given extra duties without extra pay, or as you follow the partisan bickering and political gridlock in Washington, D.C., or as the Church is pulled to and fro in these daunting times when parishes close and the clergy sexual abuse scandal continues to display a rottenness within some priests as well as the bishops and other hierarchy that fail to safeguard their flock.

Let us trust that, in spite of all these distressing events, we will hold together and even emerge stronger, like Washington’s army at Valley Forge. Our confidence rests not in our own abilities or our nation’s resolve or our Church’s traditions and holiness but on our belief that in our hour of need Jesus comes to us.

Our passage from Matthew’s gospel shows that Jesus came to the aid of his disciples as the storm battered their boat. When Peter’s faith proved weak and he began to sink, Jesus saved him. Matthew wants us to understand that Jesus always saves us in times of trouble, which of course is shown most powerfully by the cross.

Jesus is the face of the Father’s love, a love also evident in the story of Elijah. In our reading from the First Book of Kings, this prophet is on the run. He recently has slain the prophets of the pagan god Baal, whom Jezebel, the Israelite king’s wife, worships. Jezebel intends to get revenge, so the dispirited Elijah flees. In fact he makes his way to Mount Sinai, here called Horeb, where God had given Moses the Ten Commandments. Though it isn’t shown in our passage, God reassures his prophet. As our responsorial psalm tells us, the Lord shows us his kindness and grants us salvation. For Elijah this was manifested not long afterwards when God carried him to heaven in a whirlwind, which reminds us of God raising his Son from the dead.

Will God, who didn’t abandon Elijah, the storm-tossed disciples, or his crucified Son, abandon us? No! Yet, it is easy for us to forget this, as we suffer our own stormy times. Coming together at Mass each Sunday is so crucial because here the story of God’s loving fidelity is repeated, and here we die with Christ and rise with him through our participation in the eucharist.

This is the opportunity to strengthen our unity as God’s people, just as Valley Forge proved to be the opportunity for Washington’s army to grow strong , despite the adversities that threatened to destroy it. And as the Continental Army went on to defeat the British, let us do our part in the struggle against evil, especially by sharing our faith with others, who perhaps are close to giving up.

God is saying through these two readings that whenever a sense of uncertainty, fear, anxiety, helplessness, impotence, or powerlessness assails you, trust that God will come to you, show you his kindness, and grant you salvation.

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There are a number of television shows in which people bring possessions to a pawn shop hoping to sell them for a profit; or they purchase all the contents of a storage unit because they are sure there is some hidden treasure inside; or they go digging through someone’s attic or barn to find that treasure and then offer the owner a few dollars for it. They all feature people looking for something of value.

The parables in today’s gospel are also about seeking something of value. Jesus says that the Kingdom of Heaven is like hidden treasure in a field that someone stumbles across; or like a perfect pearl that someone is searching for. When the people in these parables find what they are looking for, they sell everything they own in order to obtain the treasure, the pearl that they were seeking.

Our lives can be like that, constantly looking for that one treasure. Some people will try anything to find happiness. Solomon, in our first reading today, could have asked God for wealth, a long life, or a strong invincible army. But he knew that with God’s wisdom he would know how to protect the nation, possibly without the use of an army; whatever wealth he accumulated, whether much or little, he would know how to use it properly and would not be wanting; and however long or short his life might be, he would fulfill the purpose God had intended for his life.

In the end, the only treasure worth seeking is the Kingdom of God; and that Kingdom is not something that comes at the end of life. Jesus tells us “the Kingdom is at hand.” We are not to wait for it; we are to seek it and work to build it, NOW! We come together here every week to encourage one another, to be inspired by the Word of God in Scripture reminding us about the Kingdom, and to be nourished by the Body and Blood of Jesus to strengthen us for the work of building the Kingdom. We are sent from here to seek out that “pearl of great price,” to “love and serve the Lord,” and build the Kingdom of God.

It is said that St. Lawrence, a deacon martyred in Rome in the third century, when ordered to bring all the treasure of the Church to the prefect, gathered a great number of blind, lame, maimed, leprous, orphaned and widowed persons. When the prefect arrived, Lawrence simply said, “These are the treasure of the Church.” Sister Denise has kindly come here today to share with us about some of her community’s ministry among the poor people in Haiti, who are the poorest people in the Western Hemisphere. They are our most precious treasure. Most of us cannot go to Haiti with Sister Denise to help build the Kingdom there; but we can support her ministry. That can perhaps be a small part of our work of building the Kingdom. I encourage you to support Sister Denise in her ministry, and to continue bringing the Kingdom into your world every day.

“What will happen to her?” 7-year-old Sarah asked.

She was referring to her 17-year-old cousin Pam, having been listening to her mother and Aunt Linda, Pam’s mother, as they talked about the girl. Three nights earlier, some hours after yet another terrible argument with her mother, Pam apparently had run away. The two sisters-in-law had grown very close over the years, and Linda once again had come over in tears, needing to get away from her house, compelled to speak to her friend about her growing sense of hopelessness.

“I don’t know,” Sarah’s mother answered. “We just have to keep praying for her and trusting in God.”

Amidst all the cares life brings, how difficult it can be to maintain our sense of hope. Bishop James Walsh manage to do so during his 12 years in a Communist Chinese prison because he, like Sarah’s mother, knew that without prayer and reliance on God, hopelessness would overcome him and he would be lost.

In 1918 the young Maryknoll Missionary from Maryland had gone to China, and in 1927 the pope named him the first bishop of Jiangmen. After gaining control of China, the Communists arrested him on a false charge of spying for the Vatican and the United States, and in 1958 the 67-year-old missionary found himself all alone behind bars.

“What will happen to him?” Bishop Walsh’s family and fellow Maryknollers asked, just as Sarah did about her cousin.

Throughout those 12 awful years, Bishop Walsh took to heart the words of Scripture, such as today’s verses from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. He trusted the Holy Spirit to aid him in his weakness. Prayer was essential, but there were times when, because of that weakness, even prayer seemed fruitless, and despair loomed. While his jailers provided for his basic material needs, particularly difficult, he later said, was bearing the monotony of daily confinement. Each morning he would wake up and try to plan how he would occupy the day so as to maintain his sanity and his ideals as a priest and missionary to the Chinese people.

Prayer and the Holy Spirit sustained Bishop Walsh’s hope, and they will sustain ours, as well. Sisters and brothers, the burdens life thrusts upon us can seem insupportable. Sometimes when you wake up your heart already feels heavy. Mustering a smile for a loved one or a co-worker requires real effort. Such is the impact of our weakness, even when we think of ourselves as people of strong faith.

How necessary it is that we persevere in prayer and trust in the Holy Spirit to come to our aid, for when prayer seems pointless, the Spirit intercedes for us. Let us remember that we belong to the kingdom of heaven, whose success God guarantees. God will allow nothing to prevent its growth, which is the point of Jesus’ parable about the tiny mustard seed growing into a very large plant.

“What will happen to me?” you might ask yourself in your suffering, as Sarah asked about her cousin and Bishop Walsh’s family asked about him. Surrendering to God in prayer and ever-reliant on the sacraments, let us take God at his word that we are sure winners because of the kingdom of heaven that we serve.

The power of God cannot be contained, it cannot be stymied.

Are you aware of the power of adrenalin? Julia, while in the kitchen wiping off the baby’s face, heard a crash in the garage, where her husband Bob was working on the car. Hurrying to the door, she was horrified to see that somehow the car had fallen off the jacks supporting it and landed on her husband’s chest. Screaming, she raced outside and, with a glance at Bob’s pain-stricken, desperate face, she gripped one side of the car’s undercarriage in her hands and hoisted. The adrenalin coursing through Julia’s 120-pound, 5’3’’ body at this moment of extreme danger enabled her to lift that side of the car off the floor, as Bob pushed himself away with his feet. In a critical situation like this, the human body can demonstrate superhuman power.

Do you remember the mining disaster that occurred in Chile last year? The 33 men trapped by a mine cave-in 2,300 feet below the surface survived for 69 days and were rescued because of the ingenious human mind. Of course, this same powerful brain is what has enabled us to probe far into outer space and devise medical treatments that were unimaginable 25 years ago.

Considering what the mere human body and mind are capable of, why would we doubt God’s power to accomplish all that God wills?

When our readings from Isaiah and Matthew speak about God’s word, they use “word” in the sense of God’s power, as a representation of God’s totality. This is similar to what is meant when a person gives his word, for this pledge embraces his whole being.

Isaiah is addressing his people as they endure their bitter exile in Babylon. They have brought these decades of suffering upon themselves by betraying their friendship with God. The prophet wants to assure the Israelites that God, ever faithful to the commitment made to them through Moses at Mt. Sinai, will free them and bring them back to the promised land. This is as certain as the rain that comes, causing seeds to germinate, because nothing can prevent whatever God wills from taking place.

Isaiah challenges the exiles to have confidence in the effectiveness of God’s word, God’s power, and Matthew uses Jesus’ parable to send his listeners the same message. True, some who hear Jesus’ message fail to take it to heart. The evangelist’s listeners fear the persecution that has taken place against Christians. They also feel disheartened because some members of the Church give short shrift to following Jesus, instead preferring worldly allurements or allowing the difficulties of life to undermine their faith. However, have no doubt that Jesus’ word will bear incredibly rich fruit in those who accept it and will transform the world. This is the thrust of Jesus’ message in our gospel passage.

Both the Hebrew Scripture and the Christian Scripture are quite honest in their assessment of human weakness. The former shows the Israelites frequently failing to trust God, regularly succumbing to temptation. According to the latter, the same is equally true of the Church, the New Israel. Our faith often falls short, and we do not pray as we should. As a consequence and as anyone can see, we Christians have not yet transformed the world.

In our verses from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, he describes humanity and all of creation groaning in labor pains. He views the whole universe, which suffers along with us humans because of our sinfulness, as longing for the fullness of redemption that Jesus will bring when he returns in glory. Nonetheless, Paul is confident in victory, because Jesus’ death and resurrection have conquered sin and death.

May each of us share in the confidence expressed in all of today’s readings. Big though our problems are, God’s love and power are far bigger and unquestionably will accomplish God’s purpose. It is necessary that we call this to mind during our moments of weakness, moments that have you feeling down because your pay doesn’t keep up with your bills or because of your frustration over Medicare’s inadequacies or your parents are talking divorce; moments when you are angry about corporate greed; moments when you are at your wits’ end over a loved one’s alcoholism or your chances of ever finding a decent job.

In another of his letters, to the Ephesians, Paul writes that God’s power now at work within us can accomplish far more than all we can imagine. That power was at work among the exiled Israelites and finally brought them home. That power is at work among us who are the Church, whom God has charged to carry the Good News to the whole world, whom God guides always, and whom God nourishes with the eucharist.

Considering what a jolt of adrenalin allowed Julia to do and the wonders that the human brain has accomplished, let us be confident that nothing will stymie God’s boundless love and power, and let us make it our goal to allow them to work within us.

Are you a Charlie Brown or a Lucy?

These Peanuts characters form quite a contrast. In his kindness, Charlie Brown often seems to lose, while Lucy’s bitter tongue and ready fist often seem to land her on top. I think that Jesus, in his meekness and humility, is like Charlie Brown, while the ways of the world side with Lucy.

When Hitler entered Paris in 1940, after his army humiliated the French forces, he did so in triumph, riding in a big, beautiful car, with his army arrayed around him. This was reminiscent of the way a conquering general of imperial Rome returned home. The victorious hero would stand astride an ornate chariot pulled by beautiful horses as he and his army paraded down the city’s main boulevard, the vanquished foe’s leader dragged behind in chains, followed by heaps of captured wealth.

Contrast Jesus’ manner of entering Jerusalem a few days before his arrest and crucifixion. He is greeted enthusiastically by the people, like a general fresh from a huge victory. However, rather than riding a powerful warhorse or a sleek chariot, he is mounted on an ass, a sign of peacefulness, in fulfillment of the prophet Zechariah’s words in our first reading.

Unlike a Caesar or a Hitler, Jesus did not come to dominate. His was the way of gentle invitation and invincible love. Meekness is another word for gentleness, and Jesus’ ministry was characterized by his gentle approach to sinners. He, who humbly took on our brokenness by coming into this world as a man, invariably welcomed the outcasts. We see this in other parts of Matthew’s gospel, when Jesus touches a leper and heals him, frees possessed men of their tormenting demons, invites Matthew the tax collector to follow him, and dines with those whom the self-righteous Pharisees and scribes reject as sinners.

History abounds with examples of figures who sought to dominate and control: Hitler and Genghis Khan by force of arms, John D. Rockefeller and Bernard Madoff by force of money, Karl Marx and Mussolini by force of ideology. However, domination and control aren’t foreign to the little guy or gal, either.

Perhaps you and I seek to control by means of sharp tongues, or out of resentment we punish a person who has hurt us by gossiping about him or her. Maybe I oppose every idea a co-worker comes up with because of my dislike, or I distance myself from a relative as a form of retaliation. It might be that we are guilty of “pushing the buttons” of a loved one to get our way on some matter.

In following such a course, we are not walking in the footsteps of Jesus but marching to the beat of Satan’s drum. His tune lulls us into believing that fulfillment is found in being served not serving, and in accumulating more and more rather than sharing. The power of evil wants to convince us that there are winners and there are losers, causing us to forget we all are sisters and brothers. In the verses leading up to our gospel passage, the scribes and Pharisees oppose Jesus at every turn, finding bad in each of his good deeds. When Jesus criticizes these men, whom he sarcastically speaks of as wise and learned, it’s because they are in league with Satan.

In his peacefulness, gentleness and humility, he turned the other cheek, prayed for his enemies, and sacrificed his life for all of us sinful humans.

Our challenge is to see that true life is found by imitating Jesus, especially when all whom Satan has seduced are shouting that we are out of our minds.

Charlie Brown or Lucy? With the help of the eucharist, may we look to Jesus for the way we will go.

How does the idea of sacrificing yourself for God strike you? After all, that’s what we are to be about, isn’t it? In the 1984 movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, American archaeologist Indiana Jones finds himself in India with an 11-year-old Chinese sidekick named Short Round and the lovely American night club singer Wilhelmina Scott. They agree to help a poor village that is losing all its children to slavers and that is desperate to recover a mystical stone. Learning that the children are being taken by followers of a sinister religious cult and forced to dig for stones that possess terrible power, they track them down. Indy finds that the cult’s evil high priest is bent on gaining control of the whole world by means of five mysterious stones, including the one he stole from the village.

Before long, Indy, Willy, and Short Round are caught. First, however, from their hiding place they observe a horrific scene of human sacrifice to the cult’s god. In this memorable episode, which is quite intense and disturbing, the high priest rips out the victim’s heart and then has him lowered into a pit of hot lava, the man still alive as his heart beats in the priest’s hand. The god’s anger and bloodlust must be satisfied.

Sacrifice is an aspect of many religions, including Judaism, which even practiced human sacrifice at one time. Remember that at Passover lambs would be slaughtered in memory of the first Passover, when the destroying angel, sent to slay the first born of the Egyptians, spared the Israelites because their doorposts were marked with the blood of the lamb.

Very different though it is from the human sacrifice in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” sacrifice also plays a significant part in the Christian faith, with Jesus as the sacrifice we offer. Today’s passage from St. Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians comes from a section that compares sacrifice in its Christian form with sacrifice as performed by Jews and pagans. By eating Jesus’ Body and drinking his Blood, as we do in eucharist, we participate in his sacrificial death and in his resurrection, St. Paul says. This meal, Paul points out, builds up our oneness, not only with God but also with each other.

In Old Testament religions, sacrifice had several purposes, one being to draw the people closer to their god as they shared in the sacrificial meal. Don’t we human beings look upon meals as a special opportunity to experience togetherness? Similarly, in the religious practice of the Middle East thousands of years ago, in offering a choice portion of the sacrificed animal to their god and then eating the rest of it themselves, the people believed they enjoyed a deeper unity with the divinity with whom they shared this meal.

In the verses we heard from John’s gospel, Jesus says, “The one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” Instead of consuming a sacrificed bull or ram, we feed on Christ himself, the Lamb of God who died to take away our sins. Every time we participate in eucharist, we remember how profound God’s love for us is, in that God sacrificed his very life to save us, his unworthy children. By pouring out his blood, the Son of God atoned for our sins, thus restoring our friendship with God.

The cultic god in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is angry and can be appeased only with human blood. Such is not the case with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who brought the Chosen People from slavery in Egypt and gave them a land of their own. This God is revealed to us in Jesus, the very face of the Father’s love. Rather than an angry god, the one true God has such a passionate concern for humanity and all creation that he draped himself in human flesh and suffering.

Jesus is the sacrifice we offer at Mass, but the prayers of the Mass make it clear that we also must offer ourselves. This is evident when, while praying over the bread and wine after they have been brought forward, the priest quietly says, “Lord God, we ask you to receive us and be pleased with the sacrifice we offer you with humble and contrite hearts.” Then, after the consecration, the priest asks the Father that Jesus will make us an everlasting gift to him. Therefore, God expects us to sacrifice ourselves along with Jesus. We do this, of course, by our effort to imitate Jesus’ love, forgiveness, compassion, and self-giving.

Eternal life is the destiny God has planned for each of us, and we taste a bit of it whenever we receive eucharist. Lest we forget the great thing God has done for us through Christ’s death and resurrection, let us never fail to seek out the meal God lays before us at Mass. And let us invite others to join us.

Did those words at the end of our second reading today sound familiar? “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

They are words that we use frequently in our liturgy as a greeting. Sometimes these words are shortened to simply “The Lord be with you.” But even then, the “Lord” who is invoked is the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We began our liturgy today with just such a greeting. Several times during the Mass we invoke the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We will conclude Mass with a blessing “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” We were all (most of us?) baptized in the name of the Trinity. When our bodies are laid to rest we will again be blessed in the name of the Trinity.

Today, the Church celebrates Trinity Sunday. I am not going to try to explain the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Theologians have tried to understand it for nearly 2,000 years. What God would have us understand is that in these three Persons, we are loved.

In our very familiar reading from John’s Gospel, we are told “God so loved the world that He gave his only Son” that the world might be saved. This is the central point of John’s gospel. It sums up what our recently concluded Easter season celebrated. That season of celebration began with the Easter Vigil Mass, at which the first reading is taken from the first chapter of Genesis.

In that reading, we hear the story of Creation. At the very beginning, we are told “a strong and mighty wind swept over the waters.” A more literal translation would say that “the Spirit of God” moved over the waters. So already in the very first chapter of Scripture the Holy Spirit is present. Then, at the beginning of John’s Gospel, we are told that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John goes on to tell us that this “Word” came among us as Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God.

Thus, from the very beginning, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all present. This is what we mean when we pray, “as it was in the beginning.” By God’s nature, God is three persons. As such, God is a community. God is love as John tells us in his first letter. (1 John 4:16) You and I can love someone or something, but God is able to simply love. God’s love does not need an object. God’s love creates. God so loves that in the beginning, God created the world.

God so loved that the Father created the world; but, as if that isn’t enough, when mankind strayed, God loved us so much that God sent his Son that we might be saved. Let me say that so that it is a little more personally meaningful. God so loves you that God gave his only Son that you might be saved. God loves the person next to you, and God loves your next door neighbor, and your friends. God even loves your enemy so much that God gave his Son, so that even your enemy might be saved. That presents a challenge for you and me.

Then as if sending the Son to save all of us was not enough, when Jesus was preparing to return to the Father, he promised to send the Holy Spirit. So, last week we celebrated the feast of Pentecost. We celebrated the day when the Spirit descended on the apostles and those gathered with them, and the presence of the Holy Spirit with us now. This gift of the Holy Spirit was given in the sacrament of Confirmation to about thirty of our young people last Sunday afternoon. They now share with us the fullness of God dwelling within us in the person of the Holy Spirit.

God, the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit, loves us so much that God the Father created us and the world in which we live; God the Son came to give his life and rise from the dead in order to restore us to eternal life; and God the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us, and share the spiritual gifts with us.

I pray, in the words of St. Paul from our second reading today, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

In the “Star Wars” movies, Luke Skywalker often is in peril, especially when confronted by Darth Vader, who tries to seduce him to join him on the dark side of the Force. Obi-Wan Kenobi, the great but now aged Jedi Knight, takes Luke under his wing and schools him in the arts of the Jedi. Thus, he learns of the Force, the power that guides all the Jedis as they uphold the good against the terrible evil of the dark side.

In one episode, as Luke jockeys his space craft into position in the attack against the Death Star battle station, the slain Obi-Wan’s voice urges him to rely on the Force not on his ship’s weapons guidance system as he aims a death blow at the enemy fortress. Then, in the climactic battle against Darth Vader, the Force alone lends Luke the strength to resist the allurements of the dark side, which presses him to surrender to his rage by killing Darth Vader, whom he has just defeated in combat.

As we observe the Feast of Pentecost today, this imagery from “Star Wars” helps us to understand the importance of the Holy Spirit whom God bestowed upon the Church that first Pentecost. Without the Force, failure was unavoidable for Luke Skywalker and for the Republic of planets. Similarly, apart from the Holy Spirit, we can’t possibly bear witness to Jesus, without whom we and the universe are lost.

The Spirit transforms us. [In John’s gospel we hear about how rivers of living water will flow from within him who believes in Jesus, a reference to the Spirit we have received. Later] in John’s gospel we see that following Jesus’ death, the disciples are immobilized by fear that they will suffer his fate. It takes the Spirit, whom Jesus breathes upon them, to put fire in their bellies. [Recall that passage when the Spirit fills the disciples, in the forms of tongues of fire, after which they begin to boldly proclaim Jesus as Savior.] In the Acts of the Apostles, which depicts the coming of the Holy Spirit differently than John’s gospel, once the Spirit comes in the form of a strong driving wind and tongues as of fire, the passive band of followers springs into action.

Luke and the other Jedi Knights used their light sabers to defend the Republic from those under the sway of the dark side. Our weapon is the fire of the Holy Spirit who inflames our hearts. Because we cooperate with that flame, we are empowered to carry on Jesus’ work of overcoming evil, whether it takes the form of our own selfishness or the terrible injustice of poverty and war. Evil can seem invincible, as Darth Vader does in “Star Wars”. However, Luke Skywalker defeated him, and evil will succumb to the power of love, which takes root in us through the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ cross and resurrection guarantee this.

Sisters and brothers, Pentecost is the Church’s birthday, for on this day it was born through the gift of the Spirit breathed upon it by Jesus. His action is meant to remind us of that scene in the Book of Genesis in which God gives life to Adam by blowing into his nostrils the breath of life. At our baptism, each of us similarly was reborn. Transformed by this sacrament, in which we received the Spirit, we are to share the Good News with the whole world. This is the message of Acts, as the disciples speak in different tongues understood by persons from a wide range of nations.

Therefore, strengthened by the eucharist and ever attentive to the Holy Spirit, in peace let us go forth from here to bear witness to Jesus, the Savior of the world.

Judgment Day hasn’t come, despite the pronouncements of Harold Camping and his organization, Family Radio International. Mr. Camping, who predicted that Jesus’ Second Coming would take place today (yesterday), will have to return to the drawing board.

The media have delighted in this, including the comic strip Doonesbury, in which one of Camping’s true believers gives Zonker his Mercedes, since he won’t be needing it any more.

This is just the latest of innumerable warnings over the past 2,000 years that the end approaches and Armageddon is about to befall the world. It is unfortunate that so many misinterpret the Book of Revelation and other apocalyptic writings in the Bible, terrifying some people that God’s anger will overtake them.

Apocalyptic writing concerns the end times and uses vivid imagery, imagery like earthquakes, erupting volcanoes, war, famines, plagues, and fire from heaven that is not meant to be taken literally. Apocalyptic literature in the Bible was produced in times of persecution, and its message is that God is in control. It reassures the faithful that they have nothing to fear because God will preserve them while punishing their persecutors.

God is not guided by anger but by love, a love that encompasses all creation. We need fear Jesus’ Second Coming only if we have forsaken God, in which case we ourselves have chosen to be separated from God for eternity. That is the essence of hell: to be cut off from God. If that fate befalls anyone, it results from that person’s own decision to live a totally selfish way during his or her time in this world.

Our verses from John’s gospel are part of Jesus’ farewell speech to his followers at the Last Supper. His disciples are frantic about his coming departure, for they don’t understand that his death will be followed by resurrection. He seeks to reassure them, saying that he will come back again and take them to himself.

Here that coming back again refers to his resurrection. He came back and breathed the Holy Spirit upon them, the gift by which Jesus is with his Church always. The Spirit ever shows us the way that is Christ himself, reveals to us the truth that is the Father, and gifts us with the life resulting from belief that Jesus is the revelation of the Father.

Jesus indeed returned to his followers when he was raised. He also will return at the end of time, something no one can predict, as Harold Camping has learned. We look for the Lord’s Second Coming by taking to heart his words, “Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do.”

Since his purpose was to lead people to his Father, that’s what you and I also must be about. As we heard in today’s reading from the first Letter of Peter, God wants to use us as living stones with which God will build his kingdom in this world. In baptism God commissioned us as living stones to serve as God’s instruments in calling others out of darkness into God’s wonderful light.

Will you and I accept this challenge? I hope so, even though it means rejection, as Jesus himself suffered rejection. Stephen, who is one of the seven men chosen in our passage from the Acts of the Apostles to assist the Twelve, suffers rejection in the form of martyrdom, as the next chapter reveals. As we faithfully share the gospel, in deed and word, we will not escape rejection. However, this is no reason to despair but, like the early Christians, to glorify God, for our suffering unites us to Christ, who suffered for us.

There is a good deal of darkness in the world, but the light of Christ will overcome it, because he conquered sin and death by means of his cross and resurrection, as we remember every time we gather together to participate in the eucharist. Let us share this Good News, so that all the world may find the life that Jesus alone offers and be prepared to welcome him with joy when he comes again in glory.

No matter how dark the valley where you find yourself walking, will you trust that the Lord is leading you and listen to his voice?

“Why can’t God take me instead of Rita?” wept Betty, my 95-year-old second cousin once removed, whom I was visiting this past Thursday at her home not far from Steubenville. The impending death of her daughter, who’s only 65 but has inoperable cancer, is Betty’s dark valley.

My brother Bill’s valley of darkness is his addiction to alcohol and crack cocaine, which has just about destroyed him. He seems to have ears only for the voices of these soul-slaughtering robbers, unlike Betty, who knows that Jesus is the Lord of life.

Whatever form your dark valley takes, you cannot avoid it. But our faith assures us that God will guide us through, like a shepherd who leads and protects his flock.

Did the Father abandon Jesus as he traversed the dark valley of his passion and death? Even as he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” just before his death in Mark’s gospel, he trusted in his Father. Nor was Jesus’ trust misplaced, because by raising him from the dead, his Father indeed spread the table before him in the sight of his foes, anointed his head with oil, and filled his cup to overflowing.

As we heed the voice of Jesus our shepherd, we will find that the path on which he leads us is a difficult one. Our reading from the first Letter of Peter says that he suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow in his footsteps. However, our suffering never will defeat us if we remain close behind Jesus.

St. Francis of Assisi knew this. As a young man he went off to war to defend his city. He experienced no martial glory, only capture and year-long imprisonment, which left him sick in mind and body. However, the Lord led him through this dark valley and used it to awaken Francis to a better way, for one day Jesus spoke to him, and Francis surrendered himself to his shepherd completely.

This great saint heeded Jesus’ voice, but he could have chosen to ignore it and instead listened to the voice of strangers. That is the great danger that confronts every human being. Whose voice could that be? The voice of greed for money or power. The voice of hunger for popularity. The voice of sexual pleasure. The voice that tells you what a loser you are and lures you to seek refuge in drugs and alcohol. The demonic voice repeating constantly that life has no meaning other than looking out for number one and that when you die that’s the end of the line.

To lend an ear to the voice of such strangers would take you to a dark valley from which there would be no escape, unless you chose to return to the shepherd and guardian of your soul.

The eucharist we soon will receive assures us that no matter how dark the valley we are enduring, Jesus will show us the right path. The grace given us in this sacrament, the sacrament of reconciliation, and prayer empowers us to grasp the hands of those who are lost, like my brother, and help them return to the shepherd.

After all, the eucharist joins us to Jesus, who wants every person to reside with him in his eternal dwelling. Listening to his voice, may you and I, Betty, Bill, Rita, and all God’s children follow him. And may we strive to bring along with us those led astray by the strangers’ voice, determined to lose no one to the dark valley.

-05/08/11 - Bugaj
Two disciples are on their way to Emmaus from Jerusalem. They are, according to our gospel text, “downcast,” disappointed because their hopes have been crushed. They thought that Jesus was the Messiah, who would redeem Israel and re-establish the Kingdom of David along with the glory it had once experienced; they expected him to expel the Romans from their country and return their freedom. But it was not to be so. Jesus has died. So the two disciples are going home, walking away from the place where their plans had fallen apart.

They are so wrapped up in their own sense of loss that when the women returned from the empty tomb, they did not really hear that Jesus’ body was gone. They were so blinded by their grief that they did not understand when some of the apostles came back from the empty tomb saying that Jesus was not in the grave. They could not hear that angels proclaimed that Jesus is Risen and Alive! Even this stranger tries to explain that it was part of God’s plan that the “Messiah must suffer these things” before entering glory. (Lk24:26) They could not see that although things did not work out the way they expected, God might have bigger plans. How often do people have dreams, plan, and hopes that fall apart; without realizing that perhaps God has another, bigger plan. The stranger is right…“How foolish…how slow of heart to believe” we are. (Lk24:25)

It is not until they reach their destination and offer hospitality to the stranger that “their eyes” are “opened and they recognize” Jesus. (Lk24:31) It is only in the “Breaking of the Bread,” which we call the Eucharist that they finally see who Jesus is, and can see that God’s plan far exceeds any expectations they had. Now they realize that Jesus is indeed Risen, Alive, and with them. It is here, where the Scriptures are proclaimed, and bread is broken at the table of the Lord, that we experience the Real Presence of the Risen Jesus. It is when we gather together as the Body of Christ that we realize God’s plan far exceeds any of our expectations.

Last weekend, I had the privilege of helping a couple I’ve known for some time, celebrate the funeral of their son. He was in his mid forties and died after a prolonged illness. That same couple lost a daughter about ten years ago, also after a prolonged illness. Even in the midst of their grief, that couple could say “I don’t understand, I don’t know why this is happening, but I know that God has a plan and I trust Him.”

One of the disciples in the upper room in Jerusalem also had recently lost a son—Mary, the mother of Jesus. As a young girl, she undoubtedly had dreams. Those dreams probably did not include being an unwed mother whose son would die by crucifixion 33 years later. But she trusted that God’s plan was better than hers. Today, we are all grateful to her for trust and faith. We pray that we can be as trusting as she was. And, today it is appropriate to say that we are grateful for the trust that our mothers have had, those who gave us life and those who were our spiritual mothers, guiding us and giving us encouragement; grateful for the role they have played in our lives. And we pray that we can be open to the plans that God has for us that far exceed any dreams our mothers have had for us.

-04/24/11 - Easter
(Sing:) “Lord, let me walk that lonely road with you, under the weight of the wood. Lord, let me walk that last mile in your shoes, under the weight of the wood. Freedom can be found, laden down, under the weight of the wood.”

Sisters and brothers, tonight we celebrate the freedom Jesus won for us. It is freedom from sin, the countless human sins that one could say gave rise to a huge, awful, deadly tree that made Jesus’ cross necessary.

The Genesis story of Adam and Eve’s sin encapsulates the sad reality of humankind’s fallen nature. It follows the story of creation, when “God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.” We humans can thwart the goodness that God places within us, as demonstrated when Adam and Eve defied God by eating the forbidden fruit. They cost themselves their freedom.

This original sin planted a terrible seed, which germinated and, with all the sins that followed, grew into that fatal tree. Some of those sins count as catastrophic, like Cain’s murder of his brother Abel, the innumerable wars we humans have visited on one another, and Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. Some are less weighty, like our unkind words, impatience, and shortcomings in generosity. Whether serious or small, every one of those sins fed that terrible tree, enslaving man and woman all the more.

That tree loomed over the human race, growing ever weightier, blocking out more and more light. Nonetheless, God unswervingly proved to God’s sinful children that abandoning them is not part of the plan. This was revealed not only by God’s friendship with Abraham, from whom the Chosen People sprang, but even more through God’s close relationship with Moses, who led them to the Promised Land. Here they put down roots. However, though given so much by God, in their sinfulness they repeatedly forsook God, forging stronger chains that shackled them to Satan and enabling that awful tree to achieve gigantic proportions.

Isaiah and his fellow prophets strove mightily to take an ax to the tree, warning the Israelites against trying God’s patience while ever assuring them of God’s fidelity to the promise to save them. But the people persisted in their sinfulness, so much were they in bondage to Satan.

And so, in the fullness of time, the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. That tree had to go, and only Jesus could take its weight. He shook it to its very roots as he taught the downcast of his Father’s love and healed the sick, embraced sinners and cast out demons, fed the hungry and brought the dead back to life.

The weight of the deadly wood increasingly bore down upon him. The tree’s protectors weaved a deadly plot against him, and as the hour of darkness approached, Jesus grew ever more troubled. He dreaded the cup of suffering. Still, he expressed his willingness to accept it, and with that the tree’s full, stupendous burden, the dreadful heaviness of human sin, hurtled onto him.

(Sing:) “Freedom can be found, laden down, under the weight of the wood.”

Sisters and brothers, to all the world, it looked as though the cross crushed Jesus, prompting Satan to dance with delight. But the Evil One was wrong, for the Father cannot be defeated. We have been set free through Jesus cross! Its wood came from that immense, deadly tree which fed on our sins, but our Savior wielded the cross as the ax that hewed down that awful tree.

Death does not have the final word, thanks to God’s unconquerable love, which vindicated our Savior by raising him from the dead. In this God assures us that we have nothing to fear, proving that God’s ages-old promise to save humankind from sin and death is unshakeable.

All around the world, last night the Church welcomed new Christians into the fold. Among them was George Holt, who was liberated from sin by the waters of baptism. He grew aware of his thirst for the life found only in the Jesus thanks to the Good News that believers shared with him. We accompanied him on his journey to the sacraments, especially during Lent, and in the days to come it is our responsibility to continue teaching him the Christian way and to draw others to Jesus. This we do by imitating our Savior’s example of self-sacrifice.

As long as we thus choose to die with Christ, we shall live with him, and Satan will find that his efforts to deprive us of freedom are fruitless. Because of this we can sing of the liberty Jesus won for us under the weight of the wood, as he set souls free from sin’s power: (to the tune of ”At the Lamb’s High Feast”), “Easter triumph, Easter joy, sin alone can this destroy; from sin’s power do thou set free souls new-born, O Lord, in thee. Hymns of glory, songs of praise, Father, unto thee we raise: Risen Lord, all praise to thee with the Spirit ever be.”

-04/21/11 - Bugaj
We gather this evening to share in the Lord’s Supper. Our readings from scripture really focus on that event, and its meaning for us.

In our reading from the book of Exodus, the Israelites are preparing for their final night in Egypt. They are to prepare a meal that will become the feast of Passover. For that meal they are to slaughter a lamb, use its meat for the meal, and splash its blood on their doors. That blood will mark them as God’s people so that they will be saved from the final plague coming to Egypt.

Paul writes to the Corinthians about the Passover meal that Jesus and his disciples shared on the night of Jesus’ arrest. It is Paul’s account of the institution of the Eucharist by Christ. Paul tells us that during the meal, Jesus takes bread and says, “This is my body…Do this in remembrance of me.” Then Jesus takes the cup of wine and says, “This is my blood…Do this in memory of me.” Instead of the lamb’s blood splashed on the doors of the Israelites, Jesus gives us his own blood, and his own body. Even our Psalm response, which has its origin in this same letter to the Corinthians, says that we share in his blood. “Our blessing cup is a communion with the Blood of Christ.” His body and blood are offered for the salvation of the world, and we are invited to partake of them. Through his apostles, and through the gift of the ordained priesthood, Jesus continues to make his body and blood available to us. Whenever we participate in the Eucharist, we are united to Christ; his Real Presence is in the form of bread and wine. But in being united with Him in the reception of Holy Communion means that we are also united to one another as members of His Body.

We are told in our Gospel reading that Jesus did one more thing during this supper. He “took off his outer garments” and washed the disciples’ feet. Jesus, who is God, took off the appearance of his divinity, got down on his knees, and performed the task of the lowliest household slaves. And when he was done, he commanded, “As I have done for you, you should also do.” After giving us his body and blood, we are told to serve one another.

My Communion with the Lord is not just for my personal sanctification. It is not just about my personal relationship with Jesus. It is also a call to and nourishment for service. We are all called to come to the Lord’s Supper to experience communion with Jesus and with one another, and to be nourished and strengthened for service to one another and the world.

We are called to, like Christ, set aside our “outer garments,” those pretenses and facades that keep us from one another, that hide who we really are, and wash one another’s feet.

Find Christ and find trouble, and life.

That could be the motto for us Christians.

The blind man of our reading from John’s gospel runs afoul of the Pharisees only after encountering Jesus. Being granted his sight symbolizes the spiritual vision the man gains, thanks to Jesus, a vision that enables him to recognize that Jesus is the messiah. However, as a consequence he is excommunicated; he no longer is welcome in the synagogue, which is a terrible thing in a culture where religious practice is central.

This man found trouble, just like St. Paul when he encountered Jesus en route to Damascus to apprehend Christians. His blinded eyes regained their sight when Ananius laid his hands on him and then baptized him, which again says to us that his spiritual blindness was healed when he opened his heart to Jesus. Persecution dogged Paul’s life from that point on.

Find Christ and find trouble, and life.

The baptismal theme is strong in this passage from John, considering that the blind man sees after washing in the Pool of Siloam, just as the water of baptism grants us sight. Our verses from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians also point to baptism. This sacrament frees us from the darkness of sin and makes us children of the light.

Across the world, parishes are celebrating the second scrutiny of their elect (as we did at the vigil Mass yesterday). “Elect” is the name given to all who soon are to be baptized at the Easter Vigil, for God has elected them to become one with Jesus in this sacrament. George Holt is our parish’s elect, and all that is sinful in his heart is (was) uncovered and healed by this scrutiny, which also strengthens everything in him that is good.

Like the man born blind, George and the other elect in our diocese and around the world will encounter Jesus Christ and see like they never have before. We, who in baptism already have been freed from darkness and been granted spiritual vision as children of the light, must assist George and his fellow elect by our prayers and example.

Having received vision, the formerly blind man testifies that he now is Jesus’ disciple, and the Pharisees reject him. This points to the rejection Jesus will experience and the cross that awaits him. No authentic disciple of Jesus will escape trouble, and, George, if you are seeking a trouble-free passage through this life, following Christ is a bad bet. So St. Paul would tell you. But he also would say that all the suffering he experienced in choosing Jesus was worth it, for Jesus alone leads to true life.

Therefore, let us rejoice not cringe when others ridicule us for forgiving those who injure us. Let us wear insult proudly for blessing our enemies instead of cursing them. Let us answer violence with nonviolence, though all around us dismiss us as weak and foolish. Let us be branded as fools for trusting in God rather than money or anything else that falsely promises us security.

Like Jesus, let us speak out for the weak and the marginalized and defend them, ignoring the voices that insist these people are expendable and accusing us of meddling in matters that don’t concern us. By word and deed let us persevere in sharing the gospel, at home, work, and school, even if we are rejected as deluded, quaint, or religious nuts.

Such are the consequences for us children of the light. Still, isn’t that trouble a small price to pay for finding Christ? The answer is yes, as our faith assures us and as we soon will be reminded when we feast on Jesus’ Body and Blood, which unite us to his death and resurrection and testify to the enormity of God’s love for us.

Water is life.

We’ve heard about the lack of drinking water for many of the Japanese people who have been cut off in their towns ravaged by an earthquake and a tsunami that struck two weeks ago. The tainting of municipal drinking water by radioactivity from damaged nuclear power plants has aggravated the situation, causing a shortage in bottled water due to hoarding.

That water is life also is driven home by the movie 127 Hours, which came out last year. In this true story, Aron Ralston is hiking alone in Canyonlands National Park in Utah in 2003 when disaster strikes. As he clambers through a steep, narrow passage between immense rock walls, he falls, dislodging a boulder that pins his right forearm. After five days of failed attempts to free his arm, Ralston knows he soon will die of thirst, the terrible thirst that has him hallucinating about water. Therefore, desperate to live, he fishes out a dull pocketknife and begins the gruesome work of cutting off his own arm.

Thirst drove this man to take extreme action, which is precisely what God did for us. God’s thirst for us, his boundless love for us, led God to humbly share in our humanity, that we might share in God’s divinity.

The Samaritan woman whom Jesus encounters at the well in our passage from John’s gospel stands for every person. As Jesus addresses her and offers her living water, so he does for you and me. His thirst is that everyone experiences the life that is found only in God, and he calls us to slake our thirst through him.

The living water Jesus proffers to us is his teaching. It also is the water of baptism that allows us to enter into Christ, joining us to his death and resurrection which brought salvation.

That living water of Jesus’ teaching leads us to trust in God’s care for us and to obey God in all things. It guides us find life through self-giving, as opposed to the worldly viewpoint that preaches acting on self interest and says that might makes right.

Let the Israelites’ stiff-necked ways be a warning to us. Thirsty, they doubted God’s love for them, forgetting what God had done for them just weeks before in bringing them out of slavery in Egypt. Do we forget the love God demonstrated for us in Jesus’ suffering and death? Sadly, that often is the case, and because of this we fall woefully short in expressing our thanks through loving service. Lent offers us an opportunity to examine our lives and make necessary course corrections.

Baptism makes us God’s people. It sets us on course for union with God in heaven, where our thirst for God, unslakeable in this life, at last will be satisfied. Having been given life through the water of baptism, our mission is to lead others to Jesus, the source of life. Having come to faith in him, we see that the Samaritan woman tells the people of her town about him, and many of them also begin to believe.

It was due to baptized people like us that the catechumens who will experience baptism at the Easter Vigil, including George Holt of our parish, began to recognize their thirst for God. As much as one theme of Lent is repentance, an equally important theme is baptism. We who already have experienced rebirth through this sacrament accompany George on his journey to the sacraments of initiation. His longing for baptism, confirmation, and eucharist reminds us of the priceless gift of God’s love that has been poured upon us in these sacraments.

One of the marvels of nature is that a caterpillar is transformed into a beautiful butterfly. After a number of months in its cocoon, that earth-bound, often unappealing creature bursts forth to take wing, its brilliant colors and dancing flight bringing a smile to our faces.

You could say that Lent is a cocoon-like period for us. As caterpillar sheds its old form, we use this time to shed our sins and emerge purified to celebrate Easter joy.

In our reading from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus’ transfiguration presents to the eyes of Peter, James, and John a taste of heavenly glory, the glory that awaits all who, answering Jesus’ call, strive to live a holy life. Such holiness demands transformation. We have to strip off our sinful selves and clothe ourselves with Jesus Christ.

Not a single person is exempted from Jesus’ call, any more than a caterpillar is given the option to remain a caterpillar. We are free to reject that call, but heeding it is the only way open to us if we wish to arrive in the Promised Land of heaven. Heaven is our destiny, and transformation leads us there.

This brings to mind my Uncle Art. For 25 years he abused alcohol, thus cloaking his true self in a false veneer of cruelty and selfishness that alienated him from everyone, most especially his wife and children. One morning he awoke from an alcoholic stupor, not knowing where he was, and at that moment God opened his heart to understand that he had to change. Alcoholics Anonymous made it possible for him to do so. For 40 years now Art has stayed sober, and in that time he has sponsored hundreds of fellow alcoholics, helping them as they sought transformation.

Transformation from active alcoholism to sobriety might not be your issue, but for everybody here, transformation from sin to holiness is. Sin prevents us from being our true selves. An alcoholic must never let his guard down when it comes to drinking. “One glass of beer won’t harm me any,” an alcoholic can convince himself. A whole series of drinks inevitably follows that first one. In the same way sin seduces and destroys you and me, so we must never let our guard down.

Holiness of life is God’s will for every human being. How God must weep over the mess his human children have made of this world. It would be heaven on earth if all of us were our true selves. and listened, as Abram does in our passage from Genesis. No more than he knew where God was leading him do we. Still, he cooperated, and God brought him to a land flowing with milk and honey. Our heavenly home promises us far greater joy, if only we listen.

Therefore, let us listen. Lent is a time for listening, a cocoon-like period that helps us to become transformed and put on a bit of heavenly glory right now, as Jesus does in our gospel verses. It demands that we take sin seriously, recognizing the deadly danger it poses to our spiritual well-being.

Fortifying ourselves with the Eucharist, the sacrament of reconciliation, prayer, and our use of the Bible, as well as such opportunities for nourishment as our upcoming parish mission, may every one of us carry on the battle against sin and death. Jesus destroyed them through his cross and resurrection, on which are founded our hope for heavenly glory.

-03/06/11 - Bugaj
Today we reach the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. He has given us his version on how to live our lives. Similarly, our reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses has finished giving the law and all its commandments to the people.

Moses tells the people that they are to remember these laws. Even more, remembering them is not enough, they are to put these words into their heart and soul; that is, into the very core of their being. As a reminder, the people should wear the law on their foreheads and wrists.

St. Paul reminds us our salvation does not depend on our acts. But Jesus reminds us that our faith alone is not enough either. Everyone, Jesus says, who listens to his words, and acts on them builds his or her house on rock. It is not enough to simply say that we have faith; we must act on it as well. Yes, as St. Paul reminds us, our acts alone are not enough. Without faith as their driving force, they become empty. Nor do our works gain salvation for us, alone we are incapable of saving ourselves. Christ, who freely gives salvation and eternal life to us, gained that for us.

This coming Wednesday, we will celebrate Ash Wednesday, a day when traditionally Catholics wear ashes on their foreheads. That probably looks a little peculiar to the rest of the world. But for us it is a reminder to build our lives on Christ. Lent, which we are about to begin, is a season of fasting, of prayer, in order to deepen our relationship with God, to shore up that foundation and make any repairs that need to be made.

Life itself can sometimes become pretty stormy, and we can feel like we are drowning in the flood. Houses, and lives built on a rock foundation will withstand the storm. Those built on sand will be damaged, or even destroyed. But if we build our lives with Jesus as the foundation, and have a daily relationship with Him, then when the storms come, we will survive.

Jesus raises the bar very high for any who would follow him: no anger, no lustful thoughts, no oaths. His purpose at this point in Matthew’s gospel is to get at the heart of certain prohibitions found in the Ten Commandments. He tells his disciples that their righteousness has to surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees, who have a habit of half measures that serve their own purposes rather than God’s. We’ve heard this word “righteousness” before: It is found twice in the Beatitudes and means that we are to follow God’s way in everything.

Anger plays a big role in a movie that probably just about everybody here has seen, “The Wizard of Oz”. That anger belongs to the Wicked Witch of the West. It is prompted over the loss of her sister, the Wicked Witch of the East, who is killed when Dorothy’s tornado-borne house lands on her in Munchkinland.

It also springs from her failure to claim her sister’s powerful ruby slippers, which Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, magically transfers to Dorothy’s feet. The angry Wicked Witch of the West promises to make Dorothy suffers for these events, even though both were beyond her control. However, in the end the witch’s anger leads to her own destruction.

God’s way is love, as Jesus’ life attests. Killing and lust having nothing to do with love, and so those things that lead to them, anger and lust, must be rejected.

What if the Wicked Witch of the West had embraced the righteousness Jesus taught? She still would have felt anger at her sister’s death and the loss of the ruby slippers, because anger is an inescapable response to certain situations that occur.

However, after a period for cooling off and grieving over her sister, she would have sat down with Dorothy to work out their troubles, perhaps with Glinda serving as mediator. If the witch had gone this route, Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion would have been spared the terrifying attack by the flying monkeys. Besides that, the witch herself would have avoided her death by melting, when Dorothy accidentally drenched her with water she was tossing to douse the burning Scarecrow, whom the angry witch had ignited.

Reconciliation is what Jesus calls for in the case of anger, so that his righteousness can be ours. Such reconciliation softens the heart, thus allowing us to avoid violence, including the violence of insulting words, like fool and idiot, which is what “raqa” means.

How each of us and the whole human race needs to seek such reconciliation, built on the grace God gives us. Then the anger that grows between two siblings who have butted heads since childhood can be defused. And the resentment shared by two antagonistic co-workers can give way to an agreement to respect one another, despite their differences. Such an effort to imitate Jesus’ righteousness on the personal level then spreads to others. Eventually the whole world is transformed, as nations negotiate instead of resorting to bullets and bombs.

Jesus’ way of righteousness is demanding, and so we have come here to be schooled in it as we celebrate his death and resurrection and find strength in the Eucharist.

-02/06/11 - Replenishment
Every one of us needs replenishment, not only in body but just as much in spirit.

A friend of mine whose name is Dave loves to golf. He leads a very hectic life, with a job that places great demands on him. Because he needs a break, he seldom fails to hit the links every week, sometimes by himself. This practice makes a big difference in allowing him to recharge his batteries.

The gospels tell us that sometimes Jesus would go off by himself to pray, and that there were times when he and his disciples would leave the crowds for a deserted place, for the purpose of resting.

In today’s passage from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that they are the light of the world. A light isn’t hidden but placed in a spot where it provides illumination. The lamps used in Jesus’ day were fueled with oil, and naturally the oil had to be replenished from time to time. If our light is to shine before others, it also has to be replenished.

To some extent that can be done on a golf course, or by curling up with a yummy novel or soaking in the sun at the beach or camping in a remote place or visiting New York City to enjoy the theater and other big-city attractions.

Our shining light is a spiritual one. That being so, we must pay attention to our spiritual replenishment, which was Jesus’ purpose in seeking some lonely spot in which to pray. The Mass is indispensable in this.

From the birth of the Church, joining together in the Lord’s Supper on Sunday has been a fundamental practice. The Eucharist fuels our souls the way gasoline fuels our cars. Our gathering as a community of faith allows us to support each other by means of our shared prayer and worship.

Refueling your car takes a few minutes, but refueling your soul usually requires more time. To connect with God necessitates setting aside our preoccupations, quieting ourselves, and letting God become our focus. My guess is that when Jesus did this, whether alone or with his followers, he didn’t concern himself with the things he wanted to do later in the day or how much time his prayer was taking.

Mass is God’s time. We come to Mass to glorify God, by means of song and recited prayers, by naming our needs and asking God to answer them, by offering gifts of bread and wine and our very selves and witnessing their transformation, by putting on Jesus Christ as we consume the words of Scripture and the Son’s Body and Blood.

As we praise God by these means, it isn’t important whether 45 minutes have passed or 60 or 65, for we are on God’s time. We are present in order to express our love for God in the manner that Jesus has asked of us, at his Supper, where he manifests himself to us in a miraculous way. How is it possible to give thought to anything else or to be itching to leave when the Lord stands as close to us as he did to Peter and Andrew when he invited them to follow him and to Mary Magdalene as she clung to him after his resurrection?

Silence is an important aspect of the time we pass together at Mass, as we replenish the spiritual fuel needed if we are to be lamps that shine brightly before others. Time in silence is not time wasted. When my friend Dave plays golf alone, the silence is a gift, especially because our world overflows with noise and distraction.

The Church’s guidelines for the Mass specifically call for silence at certain times. Silence is to follow the homily and communion. The first, so that the people have a chance to reflect on the readings and the homily, and the second, so that everyone has an opportunity to praise God in his or her own words for the priceless treasure they have received.

Silence also is called for at the penitential rite, as we acknowledge our sinfulness, and after each of the first two readings, so that we can make them our own. Additionally, at the opening prayer, when the presider says, “Let us pray,” a bit of silence should ensue, to allow all present a moment to recall that they are in God’s presence and to give thought to what they want to ask of God.

All of us need replenishment, and an essential way that we find it for our spirits is through the Mass. Renewed by this celebration, let us go forth from here, intent on our light shining before others, that they may see our good deeds and glorify God.
-01/30/11 - Happiness
We love stories with happy endings, right? The beatitudes instruct us on happiness, for “blessed are” and “happy are” carry the same meaning.

There is many a jobless person in our community today. How does the first beatitude speak him or her? We tend to think that happiness is to possess lots of stuff, but the poor in spirit trust in God. A circumstance like unemployment can teach us to trust in God instead of money or our own abilities.

Happiness, in our minds, would be to always have plenty to laugh about, with no reason for sorrow. What if you’re someone whose spouse is entering his fourth month in the hospital and you’re struggling with despair over the likelihood he’ll ever come home? You have reason to mourn, but this indeed is a blessing, because you learn that, though brokenness is a reality, you have nothing to fear with God at your side.

To be meek or gentle strikes our “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality as weak. But the meek person who weeps over the state of our world, plagued as it is by war, terrorism, abortion, and greed, has reason to be happy. This is due to the truth that God is in charge, not us. Our gentle behavior toward other people, especially those who oppose or even hate us, changes their hearts.

To be hungry and thirsty is hardly what any of us aspire toward, for we want all our needs to be fully satisfied with plenty left over. Your brother who is a drug addict hardly will thrive if his hunger for crack is satisfied. He must hunger for what God alone can provide—the peace and wholeness that come from putting God first in his life. This is true for all of us.

The merciful are those who let go of grudges and extend forgiveness, something that our world ridicules, saying that instead we must make those who hurt us suffer. How many who have died in today’s wars would be alive if we humans recognized that the merciful truly are blessed?

“Look out for number one,” is a line all of us are familiar with. In that is where success lies, many believe. For the clean of heart, success is found in obeying God’s will in all things, in following Jesus single-heartedly. Even though it seems that all your friends in high school or college are heavily into partying and freely indulge themselves sexually, this beatitude tells you where happiness is found: Looking out for God’s satisfaction, not your own.

Peacemaking begins in our hearts. The violent words we use lead to violent deeds, contributing to a violent world. A family torn asunder by divorce will never heal when former spouses exchange angry outbursts and use their children as weapons against each other. A society will not find peace when it uses violence against death row inmates and children in the womb.

Persecution—who wants that? No, we quite naturally want to be praised and admired. But at what cost? Better to be ridiculed and abused for practicing mercy, for refusing to engage in any form of violence, for trusting in God not wealth and power, and for imitating Jesus in every other way. This path leads to true joy, even when it brings persecution.

We love stories with happy endings, right? The kingdom of heaven belongs to all who live the beatitudes, and there can be no happier ending than that.
-01/23/11 - Band of Brothers
On January 2 MAJ Dick Winters died at age 92. He was a man his troops would follow anywhere, even into enemy territory on D-Day. The 2001 cable TV series Band of Brothers told the story of the 101st Airborne company that Winters led across France and into Germany during World War II.

In today’s passage from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus begins his public ministry in Galilee, which in a way was enemy territory. Among the 12 tribes of Israel were Zebulun and Naphtali, which settled in this region when the Chosen People entered the Promised Land. With Assyria’s conquest of much of Israel about 730 B.C., Galilee was absorbed into the Assyrian empire, and in Jesus’ day many pagans—in other words, Gentiles—still lived there. Because of this and the notorious laxness of its Jewish population, nothing good could come from Galilee, as far as the devout Jews living in Jerusalem were concerned.

LT Dick Winters and his men in Easy Company parachuted into the darkness of Nazi-held France on June 6, 1944, to undertake a task fraught with great danger. “I would follow Dick Winters into hell,” one of his men said later.

Matthew depicts Jesus as the one who fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy found in our first reading. Isaiah, who lived during the period of Assyria’s victory over Israel, wants to give hope to his conquered people in Galilee. He foresees a day when a great light will dispel the darkness of foreign occupation and the rod of the Assyrian taskmaster will be broken.

Assyria had faded away long before Jesus’ birth, but many other powers had come in its stead. Life could be rather grim for the descendants of Zebulun and Naphtali.

Jesus, himself a Galilean, chose first of all to bring his light into this land of gloom, inviting the people to repent and proclaiming the presence of the kingdom of heaven. All who would align themselves with this kingdom, such as Peter, Andrew, James, and John, would join with Jesus in battling sin. Sin is the source of everything that ails humanity and the world, including, in the view of Jesus’ culture, every disease and illness. For this reason, every malady he cured represented victory over Satan.

Baptism incorporated you and me into the kingdom of heaven, just as the oath Dick Winters and his men took upon enlisting made them part of the U.S. Army. The dangers they faced in war time differed in many ways from the challenges we encounter as we follow Christ, but the darkness comes from the same source: Satan.
Nowadays people need repentance just as much as the Galileans to whom Jesus preached this message when he began his ministry in Capernaum. Sin is our surrender to Satan and takes the form of turning a deaf ear to the cry of the poor, caring only for our own comfort and well-being, using any means to accomplish our purpose, and nursing resentment towards those who stand in our way.

Jesus asks four fishermen to follow him as he challenges his listeners to repent. He does so because he needs help in accomplishing his mission, and eventually he sends them and his other Apostles to drive out demons and cure every disease and illness. Such activity is a sign that the kingdom of heaven truly is at hand.

Each of us also has been called by Jesus, who sends us out to continue his ministry. By cooperating, we ourselves act as signs of the kingdom. Like Jesus, we fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy by serving as a light among people threatened by darkness.

What are the Zebulun and Naphtali today that need the hope and joy we Christians bring? Perhaps a forgotten veteran lying sick in a local VA hospital. Perhaps a child praying that loving foster parents will take him in. Maybe desperate migrant workers and refugees whom can help by working for changes in our unjust immigration laws. Maybe young pregnant women whose situations are so desperate that they are considering abortion.

Peter, Andrew, James, and John immediately left everything to follow Jesus. As Dick Winters’ men followed him wherever he led, let us whom Jesus likewise has called let nothing get in our way as we follow him wherever he leads. Let us labor to overcome Satan’s darkness with Christ’s light, with the strength given us by the Eucharist we soon will share.
-01/16/11 - John
We hear again today about John the Baptist’s encounter with Jesus at the Jordan River. Last week we heard from Matthew’s gospel; today we hear John the Evangelist’s version of the story. A few verses earlier it was yesterday, and some people had come to the Baptist asking if he is “the Prophet” or the Messiah, the one they are waiting for. He tells them that he is just the one who has been sent to prepare the way for the one they are waiting for.

Today, John is again at the Jordan River preaching repentance and baptizing his disciples. The crowd is listening to him, watching him. Suddenly he stops; his eyes focus above and past the crowd. Excitement fills his eyes and his voice. “Behold, the Lamb of God!” He sees the one he has been waiting for. This is the one they have been waiting for. This Lamb of God is the one who will be sacrificed for the sins of the world, and the Lamb who is victorious over sin, death, and darkness we are told in the Book of Revelation. He is the Lamb of God whom we behold just before Communion at every Mass.

“Behold!” the Baptist cries out. Behold is not a word we use frequently. I cannot recall ever using it in conversation. It means more than just “look;” behold is LOOK with two, or maybe three exclamation points. It is the “look” of two lovers for one another; it is the look of a child on Christmas morning with presents under the tree. It is looking intently, studying, watching with the intensity of a cat watching its prey. And John cries out to us “Behold, the Lamb of God!” He is the one who takes away all our sins. He is the one we have been waiting for, watching for. He is the one who existed before John, before Moses, before Creation.

But then, interestingly the Baptist says, “I did not know him.” “I didn’t know him until yesterday when he came to be baptized and the Spirit descended on him.” How can that be? If we recall some of the gospel stories we heard last Advent, when Mary learned that she was pregnant with Jesus, she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, and the baby in Elizabeth’s womb, John the Baptist, leapt with joy. Jesus and the Baptist were cousins. They grew up together. It is likely that Jesus was present during at least some of the Baptist’s preaching and baptizing. How is it that the Baptist did not know Jesus? Perhaps John was saying, “I did not know who Jesus really is. I thought I knew him, but I did not really, until now.” The Baptist had been looking for the Messiah, the Lamb of God. He had been watching for the advent of the reign of God. He had been searching among those who came to him, all the people he encountered; until he found Christ, the Lamb of God.

In our baptism, we are anointed with Jesus into His ministry as prophet. Like John the Baptist, we are called to be prophets, to deliver the message of God’s salvation brought by Jesus, the Lamb of God. We are called, like the Baptist to proclaim, “Behold the Lamb of God.” And, like the Baptist, we need to find Christ. We are called to watch, to search, until we find Christ in our world. But our Baptism also joins us to Christ; we become members of the Body of Christ. You and I are Christ’s body in the world today. So, where do we find Christ, the Lamb, other that in one another? Where do I behold Christ but in the Eucharist, and in each person I encounter, every day, in every place I go.

We are challenged to watch, to search, to look for Christ in every person here and out there, and then to proclaim to our world, like John the Baptist, with John the Baptist: “Behold, the Lamb of God.”
You like potato and I like po-tah-to;
You like tomato and I like to-mah-to;
Potato, po-tah-to, tomato, to-mah-to—
Let’s call the whole thing off.

Perhaps you are familiar with the Gershwin song, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” which was written for the 1937 Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie Shall We Dance. It concerns the differing viewpoints that can cause problems and for this couple threaten their intended marriage. In the course of the song it becomes clear to them that they don’t want to part. Recognizing that they need each other and that parting would break their hearts, they call off the calling-off.

Though the Gershwins certainly didn’t write this song with the Feast of the Epiphany in mind, its message very much applies in this celebration of the salvation God has extended to all peoples.

In our sinfulness, we human beings all too often erect walls between ourselves and others, allowing our differences to define us. Under the pharaoh in Moses’ day it was the Egyptians vs. the slaves. In the 1860s here in the U.S. it was Yanks vs. Rebs. As a kid sometimes I played a cowboy and sometimes an Indian, but the two always were on opposite sides. Whether it’s one of these or another dichotomy, such as blacks and whites, gays and straights, or labor and capital, creating such divisions shows how devilishly difficult we find it to understand ourselves as children of the same God. The word Epiphany means manifestation. Our feast today teaches us that God loves all people, no matter how they differ from each other,